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F-16 fighter pilot
A fighter pilot is a military aviator trained in air-to-air combat while piloting a fighter aircraft (expressly designed for engaging down other aircraft). Fighter pilots undergo specialized training in aerial warfare and dogfighting (close range aerial combat). Not all fighter pilots experience combat, but one who attains the mark of five or more aerial "kills" is known as an "ace".


Fighter pilots must be in optimal health in order to handle the bodily demands of modern aerial warfare. Excellent heart condition is required, as g-forces have a tendency to suck blood away from the brain. Fighter pilots also require strong muscle tissue along the extremities and abdomen, for mounting an anti-G straining maneuver (AGSM, see below) when performing tight turns and other highly accelerated maneuvers.



Modern medium and long range active radar homing and semi-active radar homing missiles can be fired at targets outside or beyond visual range. However, when a pilot is dogfighting at short-range, his position relative to the opponent is decidedly important. Outperformance of another pilot and that pilot's aircraft is critical to maintain the upper-hand. A common saying for dogfighting is "lose sight, lose fight".

If one pilot had a greater missile range than the other, he would choose to fire his missile first, before being in range of the enemy's missile. Normally, the facts of an enemy's weapon payload is unknown, and are revealed as the fight progresses.

Some air combat maneuvers form the basis for the sport of aerobatics


Pilots are trained to employ specific tactics and maneuvers when they are under attack. Attacks from missiles are usually countered with electronic countermeasures and chaff. Missiles like the AIM-120 AMRAAM, however, can actively home in on jamming signals.

When dogfighting at the distance of 1-4 miles, it is considered "close." Pilots perform more stressful maneuvers in order to gain an advantage in the dogfight. Pilots need to be in good shape in order to handle the high G-Forces caused by aerial combat. A pilot will flex his legs and torso in order to keep the blood from draining out of the head. This is known as the AGSM or M1; or, sometimes, as the "grunt."

Defense against missiles

Many early air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles had very simple infrared homing ("heat seeking") guidance systems with a narrow field of view. These missiles could be avoided by simple turning sharply and which essentially caused the missile to lose sight of the target aircraft. Another tactic was to exploit a missile's limited range by performing evasive maneuvers until the missiles had run out of fuel.

Modern infrared missiles, like the AIM-9 Sidewinder, have a more advanced guidance system. Supercooled infrared detectors help the missile find a possible exhaust source, and software assists the missile in flying towards its target. Pilots normally drop flares to confuse or decoy these missiles.

Radar homing missiles could sometimes be confused by surface objects or geographical features causing clutter guidance system of either the missile or ground station guiding it. Chaff is another option in the case that the aircraft is too high up to use geographical obstructions. Pilots have to be aware of the potential threats and learn to distinguish between the two where possible. They use the RWR (radar warning receiver) in order to discern the types of signals that are hitting their aircraft. The new AESA radar system, outfitted on the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet can use its radar to actively detect inbound missiles.

G Force

Main article: G-Force

When a fighter pilot is performing rapid turning movements in a dogfight or when avoiding missiles, pilots are exposed to high g forces. G forces are expressed as a multiple of the normal gravitational force, e.g. a force of 2G is equivalent to twice normal Earth gravity, meaning everything would feel twice as heavy. Modern fighter aircraft can make much sharper turns and sustain a lot more stresses or g-forces. With the advent of the jet engined aircraft these capabilities exceed that of the human body.

When executing a "positive G" maneuver like turning upwards the force pushes the pilot down. The most serious consequence of the this is that the blood in the pilot's body is also pulled down and into their extremities. If the forces are great enough and over a sufficient period of time this can lead to blackouts (called g-induced Loss Of Consciousness or G-LOC) , because not enough blood is reaching the pilot's brain. To counteract this effect pilots are trained to tense their legs, arms and abdominal muscles to restrict the "downward" flow of blood. This is known as the "grunt" or the "Hick maneuver", both names due to the sounds the pilot makes, and is the primary method of resisting G-LOCs. Modern flight suits, called g-suits, are worn by pilots to contract around the extremities exerting pressure, providing about 1G of extra tolerance.

Notable Fighter Pilots

Notable fighter pilots include Oswald Boelcke, Georges Guynemer, Manfred von Richtofen, Francesco Baracca, René Fonck, Eddie Rickenbacker, Billy Bishop, Richard Bong, James Jabara, Frank Luke, Eugene Bullard, Max Immelmann, Douglas Bader, Chuck Yeager, Sailor Malan, Nguyen Van Bay, Duke Cunningham, John Boyd, Robin Olds, Giora Epstein, Władysław Turowicz, Hans-Joachim Marseillemarker, Nguyễn Văn Cốc, Gerhard Barkhorn,Erich Hartmann (the all time highest scoring fighter ace with 352 confirmed kills), Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon and M. M. Alam. Other fighter pilots who achieved fame outside of the cockpit include Ted Williams, Buzz Aldrin, George W. Bush and John McCain.

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