Top 10 Best Fighter Planes of World War II

If you were a fighter pilot during WWII and you were going to fly over Europe and the Pacific, you would be in dogfights. You would serve as an escort for bombers over Europe and provide air-to-ground support in both theaters. You would also strafe ground targets and ships.

Which plane would you want to fly?

Things to consider: top speed and maneuverability at high and low altitudes, durability, visibility out of the cockpit, safety, armament, range, and overall flying performance.
The Top Ten
1 Supermarine Mk 24 Spitfire

The Spitfire's wing design meant that it gave ample warning of a stall and, even when in a stall, the ailerons were still effective, so comparing statistics is not the whole story. Young inexperienced pilots (that's most of them) could fly the Spitfire to the limit with confidence, whereas with most other aircraft, only a really experienced pilot would dare to take his aircraft to the limit.

Result: Spitfires could perform well irrespective of who flew them, other types were often not being flown to their full potential, unless in the hands of an expert. The horrific accident rates during the war shows the cost of young men in aircraft which were difficult to handle.

Each plane in Spitfire range had it's advantages/disadvantages and the evolution tended to mirror the needs of the time. For me the best Spitfire was the Mk 9 because it (just) matched or slightly exceeded the enemy threat of the time which was the early FW 190, but was easy to produce swiftly and in numbers whilst retaining the great handling of the earlier Mk's. Geoffrey Quill himself has stated the Mk. VIII was a superior fighting machine, BUT it wasn't available when needed. The Mk 24 May we'll have had a huge performance edge, but it's impact wasn't huge because it wasn't needed as desperately as the Mk. 9 at it's deployment.

2 North American P-51D Mustang

When introduced in larger numbers in early 1944, the Merlin engined Mustangs brought about a huge change in the daylight air offensive against Germany. For the first time, the Allies had a fast, maneuverable, high altitude single engined fighter, that could escort their heavy bombers to anywhere in Germany. This is what sets Merlin engined Mustangs apart from all other WWII fighters, others may have had similar performance, the Spitfire, the FW190D9, (The ME262 was a hundred mph faster). But none of these had the extreme range of the Mustang (except some early Japanese fighters which weren't even close to the Mustang in performance), which made the Mustang an offensive strategic fighter unlike the others. The P-51D was just like icing on the cake, with slightly better performance, range, and a bubble canopy. It literally changed the nature of strategic air warfare. A truly great fighter.

3 Focke-Wulf FW 190 D-9

The Focke-Wulf 190 D-9' in my opinion revolutionized air combat for the Germans who, at the time relied heavily on long range fighters (BF 110's) and BF 109's that were already shown to be sub-par when up against later spitfire models. It came at a time when Britain had control of the skies and brought the Germans back into the fight. The D-9 was highly effective and feared by the allied bomber formations and had a certain fear factor to it that played a part in combat. It was really a jack of all trades you might say. Its 30mm cannon had devastating effect on aircraft and ground targets and its great maneuverability gave it the edge in dog fighting less maneuverable bomber escorts like the P-38 and P-47. A wartime winner with a legacy that will live on.

The entire Fw-190D series starting from the D-9 and ending with the D-13 needs to be recognised as some of the best performing High altitude fighters of Ww2. They were an absolute menace and had more been available late on in the war, the tide could've turned.

4 Messerschmitt Bf 109K

The Mustang's advantages over 109 are a total myth. To compare the fastest versions that saw service during the war, the P-51D top speed was 437mph, while the BF-109H was 470mph. Range wasn't much different either. P-51 max range with external tanks was 1,650 miles, while the range of the BF-109 was 1,491 miles. Max altitude of the BF-109H was 49,200 feet, while the P-51d's max altitude was 41,900 feet. Firepower isn't even remotely comparable. The mustang was armed with 6 miniscule 12.7mm machine guns, while the 109 was packing up to three 30mm cannons, and two 13mm machine guns. With it's higher maneuverability granted by it's lighter weight, and leading edge slats, along with it's greatly superior firepower, number of planes produced, adaptability, kill count, and service life, it's truly ridiculous that any human capable of critical thought would nominate the mustang as the greatest fighter of all time, when the facts clearly show that this honor goes to the BF-109.

5 Chance Vought F4U-4 Corsair

The Japanese didn't call these beasts "Whistling Deaths" for no reason. This fighter was still being built in the 1950's and got kills in the Korean War. Whilst it didn't have the highest amount of kills at the end of the war (most for a naval fighter was the F6F) it was certainly the best Naval fighter of the war.

A Marine pilot in a Corsair saved my father's life when their convoy was attacked by Kamikaze pilots late in the war. Dad was on the bridge manning the earphones and sending fire orders to the various stations when a Kate got through the flack and headed toward the bridge. The Corsair was up in the sun, belly painted gray and near invisible. It did and extreme dive and as he pulled up, cut the Kate in half with the 6 50cal guns. Only a part of the engine nacelle hit the side if the ship doing some minor damage. While all this was happening... My mother was at home in a defense plant... Inspecting riveting on wing sections... For F4U Corsairs. True story.

6 Mitsubishi A6M Zero

Like the 109 ruled Europe, the Zero ruled Asia and the Pacific, finding no challenge except from some early American fighters such as the F4F, which it crushed easily. But like the 109 (but a more severe case), it fell out of the throne, and even could've been considered obsolete. After the Allied study of Akutan Zero and the introduction of the F6F Hellcat and F4U Corsair, the Zero's flaws, namely its poor armor, slow speed, and inability to retain any high speed well became apparent, and now its weaknesses could be fully exploited by the much faster Hellcat and Corsair. Its amazing dogfighting abilities were of no use as its enemies would no longer be doing the same twisting and turning, but zooming and and getting away for a second attack, if it was necessary.
I do not believe the Zero deserves a place in the list. By 1945 it was abysmal, being crushed by the US and British pilots, as it was far too slow to be effective. However, the Japanese land fighters of the late war, the Ki-84 and N1K2, certainly deserve a spot on this list.

7 Grumman F6F Hellcat

The arrival of this plane played a huge role in allowing America to turn the tide against Japan. It was the first American fighter to have a firm advantage over the Zero and was easier to fly than the Corsair. It also shot down more planes than any other Allied aircraft during the war and accounted for around 75% of aircraft downed during the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot of 1944.

This is the plane that took the US to the gates of Tokyo nothing else matters, you have to look at the rate of climb of the F8 Bearcat and its left side roll under high throttle, it will run rings around other planes.

There were 305 American pilots that became aces behind the stick of this aircraft, more than any other American fighter plane in history. It is credited with 5,000 + aerial victories. Need I say more?

8 Messerschmitt Me 262

It may be fast and look cool but it's plagued with issues. Probably why there aren't many around today. It was too fast to manuever very well, so that's why regular prop planes kept pelting this thing with holes because they could intercept it when it was trying to turn

Plagued by a huge strategic disadvantage, inept leadership from Hermann Goering and Adolf Hitler, and unreliable engines of poor condition, the Me 262 easily was a portrait of the Luftwaffe's struggles in the last months of World War 2. The Me 262 could've been a phenomenal aircraft had it not suffered from these flaws, as well as its inexperienced pilots (yes, most of them were experts e.g. Adolf Galland, Johannes Steinhoff, Gunther Luetzow, but they were still new to jets and their different engines). Had it been introduced earlier (its possible the 262 or another jet fighter could've debuted in 1942, not long after the Fw 190! ), its flaws could've been ironed out and its new technique mastered. The Me 262 was still a deadly opponent to bombers and fighters so long as its engines could survive.
It was most vulnerable at low altitude, where a P-51 or P-47 could dive on it, or a Hawker Tempest could easily catch up to it.

9 Republic P-47D Thunderbolt

Heard of the A-10 Warthog? Its less known nickname is Thunderbolt II, and its name is from the P-47. Known as the "Jug", the P-47 was one of the heaviest planes to fly by a single propeller engine, weighing around 5 tons when empty. However, it was incredibly fast at high altitude and in a dive, and had a fearsome armament. German pilots remarked it was something "you never wanted to be in front of." The P-47 was incredibly armored as well, with the ability to survive huge amounts of damage and fly home, and had an 18 cylinder R2800 engine, which could continue to work even with some cylinders completely destroyed. The P-47 could also perform ground attack roles, able to carry half the bombload of a B-17 in rockets and bombs. Its only flaws were poor maneuverability and decent range. Many pilots in Korea who flew P-51s for ground attack missions wished they could've flown the heavier and more armored P-47 instead, which was better suited for the role.

10 Hawker Hurricane

Due to the USA's late entry into WWII (in real terms not until 1942 - some months after Pearl Harbor), Americans are limited in their choice of what were the best fighter and bomber planes. Because unless they know that Britain's RAF destroyed Germany's mighty Luftwaffe in 1940 in the Battle of Britain, with their superb Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires, they are at a disadvantage. Americans will also not know that Britain's mighty heavy bomber, the Lancaster, was bombing German sites a full three-and-a-half-years before a US bomber saw service over Germany.
Of course, Americans MUST choose the Mustang as their favourite because it was the only really good fighter plane they had - even though it didn't see real service until 1944, because national pride enters the equation. The Mustang was indeed a brilliant long-range plane, built to a British Air Ministry requirement, but useless until the US-built engine was replaced with the matchless, British, Rolls Royce Merlin engine. The same Merlin that powered Great Britain's Lancaster bomber, and both the Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane fighters.

Without the Supermarine Spitfire and the Hawker Hurricane, in 1940, Great Britain would no longer exist. And that's the only REAL test as to what were the best fighter planes of WWII

The Contenders
11 Lockheed P-38 Lightning

The large two engined P-38 looks nothing like your typical World War 2 fighter, looking more like a heavy fighter, but the Lightning (namesake of the F-35 Lightning II), or Fork Tailed Devil to the Germans and Two Planes One Pilot to the Japanese was an extremely fast and maneuverable plane. With a heavy armament packed into the nose, getting hit by a P-38 would mean defeat or a serious problem. German pilots were told to "never go head on with a P-38." The P-38, while not as iconic as the P-51 or Spitfire, achieved many important things. It produced America's top ace, Richard Bong, and avenged Pearl Harbor when it shot down Admiral Yamamoto's transport plane.

Lockheed P-38 hands down.

Look at air warfare like a boxing ring, and it comes down to a few deciding factors: how much damage you can take (short and long term), how hard and accurately you can punch, and how quickly you can evade your opponent; whether this is by quick dodges (aerobatics) or by escaping the fight to recover for a short time.

Now put the two best pilots of the war behind the controls, to make it an even fight, and pitch the P-38 against anything else in the skies. This thing could turn, dive, climb and shoot with the best of them. It puts most other fighters in the featherweight category.

It also had the advantage of having two engines fitted into the air frame, and there is a famous account of Lockheed test pilot Tony LeVier flying a P-38 upside down under the power of ONE engine - much to the entertainment of the rookie pilots watching him below.

Aside from the central nacelle being in a relatively exposed position, the pilot had fantastic protection and great all-round visibility, with great performing, supercharged, fuel injected engines providing great high altitude performance and reliability.

I've failed to mention that until 1944, this was the best armed fighter of the war, with 4x.50cal MGs and a single Hispano 20mm cannon in the nose. Guns being positioned in the nose were a major breakthrough as accurate fire became so much easier for the pilot, and the size of the rounds could shear a wing off an opponent in seconds.

12 Fiat G.55 Centauro

Called the best Axis fighter overall in 1943 by the Luftwaffe.
Level speed was 417 with WEP; 590 mph dive. Very good high altitude handling, aerobatics, and performance. Critical altitude was 8 Km for speed.

Some had 5 Mauser 20mm cannons! Great for intercepting heavies.

More robust than the Re2005 and without it's vibration/flutter.
Best for mass production of the Italian type 5 fighters and most suitable to upgrade to the larger DB603 engine.

Good rear view unlike the BF 109.
It even had faster dive acceleration than the Gustav!

Chosen to be the standard ANR Italian fighter since the others were inferior at more altitudes.

Quoted best axis fighter until the end of 1943, and for good reason. And I chose this because I don't like German or English planes and American planes are not really as good as they say they are.

Just read Goering...he said it was much better than other DB605 planes and much more robust, production was tiny in Italy so they were planning to mas produce it in Germany but DDay happened too soon...

13 Kawanishi N1K-J Shiden

Most ww2 aviation enthusiasts talk about how outclassed Japanese fighters were near the end of the war, but there were quite a few that were more than a match for there American counterparts. The N1K Shiden was one of those fighters. It was fast, extremely maneuverable and very heavily armed, and armored. Many people talk about how the Hellcat was the Zero killer, but few know about the aircraft which was the hellcat killer. With a top speed in excess of 400mph, a heavy armament of four 20mm cannons, high maneuverability, and unlike most previous Japanese fighters armor protection for the pilot, along with self sealing fuel tanks made this aircraft a highly potent force to be reckoned with.

By far one of the best planes Japan ever produced. It was more than a match for anything america could throw at it. The N1K had a killer armament of 4x20mm cannons that would tear thru bombers and fighters alike. It also had one of the best climb rates out of any planes in ww2, with the high altitude performance to boot. With Japan's belief to keep the maneuverability of fighters high, so that they could out turn any American fighters, with the application of that belief to the N1K it only helped enhance it's killing abilities.

Personally, I think if I had the choice out of any prop plane to fly during ww2 it would be the N1K.

14 Soviet Yakovlev Yak-3

In the end it was the opinion of pilots that matter. When the German pilots were told to "avoid combat below five thousand metres with Yakovlev fighters lacking an oil cooler intake beneath the nose! ", it is obvious the Germans were terrified of this plane. When it came to most other planes they had a plan of attack which was effective, but against the Yak 3 it was simply: 'RUN! ' Additionally when the French pilots serving with the Soviet Air Force were offered any British, American or Russian airplane to fly and chose the Yak-3 over all others. Albeit I don't know if these pilots were the best ever, they may have developed bias for the plane they few in the soviet front, but it is still a great testimonial for the plane. Because of these reasons I will always consider the Yak-3 to be the best fighter of WW2.

The Soviets answer to the Bf-109G's and Fw-190A's, this fighter destroyed these on the western front and later spawned the Yak 5, 7 and 9 fighters. The Yak 3 was very maneuverable and was used to great effect.

15 Blohm & Voss BV-238

Largest, and heaviest aircraft of WWII, and the best flying boat of its day.

16 Curtiss P-40 Warhawk

Okay this wasn't the best of the best. It wasn't better than the Mustangs in some opinions. But it still held off the Japanese and was probably the most important American aircraft. Which aircraft responded at Pearl Harbor? Not the Mustang.

The main land based fighter of the US until it was replaced by the P-51, P-47, and P-39. It played a big role in the defense in China and Burma as Chennault's well known Flying Tigers. The P-40 was the third most produced American fighter.

Held off superior aircraft until the allies could get the new aircraft in the air. Same is true of the Wildcat

17 Heinkel He 280

The REAL "first" jet fighter, and the first aircraft to feature an ejection seat. With a top speed of 570 mph, it was faster than the ME-262, and the production version would have been more heavily armed, with 6 20mm cannons to the 262's four 30mm. It was also more maneuverable than the FW-190A, as proven during mock dogfights between the two. Range was the only advantage of the 262. Was also an incredibly rugged aircraft, that could take tremendous punishment.

Just amazing design

18 Bell P-39 Airacobra

So beloved by Red Army fly boys and kept Soviets in the game early in the war. Roomy cockpit, very good competitive with Fritz at low altitude. Gave great punch with its 37mm cannon, 2 12.7 Brownings and 4 0.30 cal. or 2 12.7 under the wing.

The Soviets mostly used this one and gave it the praise it deserved. Sometimes I think America made a mistake not using this one.

Made in america and flown mostly by soviets, is it any wonder this very capable fighter never got the press it deserved!

19 Macchi M.C.205V Veltro

A feared and respected adversary of allied pilots. Preferred over BF 109 by Jagdwaffe pilots. An Italian aircraft that excelled in speed, power and climb and also very nimble and maneuverable, allowing it to fight on equal terms with top allied fighters.

Extremely maneuverable at low altitude with adequate performance at high. High ate of climb, being able to outclimb every allied fighter.

Great climb ratio. A pair of 20mm cannons and a pair of 12.7mm MG. Extremely manuevreable at low altitude, even outpeforming the legendary P-51 Mustang. Just as good as the Mustang at high altitudes. It could fight on equal terms with the top Allied fighters.

20 Hawker Typhoon

Actually it was a very good fighter. Pierre Closterman rode her to fame as the best French born fighter pilot of the war. She was mas heavy, but made up for it with an engine that could pull a fully loaded bomber. And she carried enough armor to stop nearly everything fired into her. She had one drawback. The torque of her engine killed large numbers of its rookie pilots. Both take off and landing, the engine would simply roll the plane onto its back and dig her into the ground if the pilot wasn't aware applying hard opposite rudder. She killed more of her own pilots than the Germans shot down pilots flying the Typhoon.

While I do prefer the spitfire as it was just a legend, the typhoon were fewer and more deadly at the end of 1941 and throughout the rest of the war. Also because it could carry up to 12 7.7mm browning machine guns or 4 20mm cannons made it a challenge for most German planes. So year typhoon for the win

21 Junkers Ju 87

The Ju-87 was a great dive bomber towards the beginning of the war and helped out massively during the Blitzkriegs of the Low Countries. It was an amazing tank buster during the later years of the war and it was great from a psychological standpoint with the infamous "Jericho Trumpet".

I love this plane good for accurate bombing and good for war thunder

Fantastic aircraft, obsolete as dive bomber, lethal as tank buster

22 Lockheed P-38J Lightning

Best over fighter of WWII. Excellent range, excellent overall performance, and as a fighter bomber 2nd to none. Not as good for pilot safety (armor) than a P-47 but safer than others 2 engines. More versatile armament than others. Pilots that flew both P-38 and P-51 seemed to side with the P-38 after the war. For some reason the P-38 seems to not have good press over the decades after the war which I cannot understand. And in pure scare factor nothing scared one as much as when a "forked tailed devil" attacked you.

An average fighter with good long range and high altitude performance. She was slower by 50 mph than nearly every other fighter in the air at the time. She was less maneuverable than both the Messerschmidt and Focke Wulf families of aircraft, and the Ta-152 would have made toast out of her. She's more legend than fact.

This plane concept seems very good. It's a shame it doesn't get more notice.

23 Focke-Wulf Ta 152 H-1

My personal choice for best German aircraft of Ww2, the Ta-152 was the best performing High altitude Piston powered fighter ever. It's speed at higher altitudes was exceptional. Unfortunately these entered service in 1944/45 and wasn't available in large numbers and so had no effect on the war, but this proved that even at the end of the war, Germany still had great designing skills.

This high altitude fighter is a beast. Master piece made by Kurt Tank. Fw190 D series was nothing but a stepping stone for this long nosed, large winged beauty. Shame that it was built in small number. It could have done way more if enough number was produced.

Simply the best piston engine fighter of the war. Faster than any Allied fighter by 50 mph. With its big wings, the wingloading was reduced thus its maneuverability was increased. It turned better than the P-38, Mustang, and Spitfire. It is an unrecognized masterpiece of engineering.

24 Nakajima ki-87
25 IAR 80

An amazing plane, which although outdated in the second half of the war it still performed admirable.

A Luftwaffe major who tested it in March 1941 had this to say about the IAR 80

Takeoff and landing are very good. It's 20 30 km h slower than the BF 109E. The climb to 5000 meters is equivalent. In a dogfight, the turns are also equivalent, although the long nose reduces the visibility. In a dive it's outclassed by the BF 109E, because it lacks an automated propeller pitch regulator. It's a fighter adequate to modern needs.

It was one of the most important planes on the Eastern Front, but forgotten today.

The IAR 80 was a Romanian World War II low-wing, monoplane, all-metal monocoque fighter and ground-attack aircraft. When it first flew, in 1939, it was comparable to contemporary designs such as the German Messerschmitt BF 109B, the British Hawker Hurricane Mk. I, and the American Curtiss P-40B/Tomahawk Mk. I and superior to the Dutch Fokker D. XXI and Polish PZL P.24. However, production problems and lack of available armament delayed entry of the IAR 80 into service until 1941. It remained in front-line use until 1944

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