Just got in from doing a little work at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. While I was at the base, the First Fighter Wing did a “Heritage Flight.” A Heritage Flight features several airplanes from a Wing or Squadron’s history flying together for photographers and/or spectators.

In this case, I was treated to the greatest fighters from the first and second halves of the Twentieth Century flying in close formation with the reigning greatest fighter of the Twenty-First Century. Cool stuff.

If you missed it, they’ll do the same flight again at the Langley Air Show in a few weeks. Catch ’em if you can.

UPDATE: Don’t say I never post anything cool for you guys:

flyby (2).jpg


72 Responses to “Flyby”

  1. Roger Rainey Says:

    Some would beg to differ regarding the best fighter of the first half of the century.

  2. Will Collier Says:

    I knew that would get a reaction (just wait ’til the Viper, Tomcat, Hornet, and Phantom guys start piling on, too).

    FWIW, I love the Corsair. What a great plane.

  3. Sharpshooter Says:

    The Phantom flew from 1900-1950?

    Where, in the Twilight Zone?

    Best fighter of the first half was the P-51 Mustang or the F8F Bearcat (not really operational).

    For the second half, the F-16.

    So there!!

  4. richard mcenroe Says:

    Man, that ‘stang must have been pedal-to-the-metal for that flyby…

    And I think the P-38 jocks will give you an argument. Not to mention the Jug jockeys…

    And there was an ANG F4C Phantom II squadron that used to beat up on Eagles pretty regular at Red Flag and the European training areas…

  5. Scrapiron Says:

    Having served in an F-4 unit i’ll admit that they were quite an aircraft in their day along with the F-105 Thud, but the F-15 eagle will actually fly circles around both of them in most circumstances… I thought the 1st TFW had converted to a new aircraft lately. Also spent 6 years at Langley in as some of you would classify the old days, 1974-80. Thanks for the praise of the skills of the pilots. As we always said, ‘you don’t fly a fighter plane, you strap it to your ass and go flying’, and that takes balls the size of gallon buckets….Not a fighter pilot…

  6. Billy Beck Says:

    “When you’re out of F-8’s, you’re out of fighters.”

    Gotta love the Thunderchief, though. Didja know it bagged the most air-to-air gun kills in the war?

  7. Robin Roberts Says:

    Of course the F15 is a better aircraft than the Phantom. That’s just a function of later engineering and better engines.

    But I think the Phantom was the greatest fighter of the jet age because it was so versatile and stayed in service so long in so many roles.

  8. Mike Daley Says:

    Wow, a greatest fighter comment war, does blog reading get any better than this.
    Gotta agree with Will on the P-51 Mustang as the most significant fighter of the the 1st half 20th Century, only because it’s capabilities as an escort saved so many thousands(more/less?) of bomber crews in the European
    I love the “Jug” and put it a very close second, of course I also place the great Navy planes of WWII there as well, the F6F Hellcat and wonderful F4U Corsair.

    As far as the 2nd half 20th Century fighter goes, you all seem to be forgetting a plane, that while designed in the 40’s, fought in the 50’s, the North American F-86 Sabre Jet. This aircraft’s singular success in the early 50’s dwarf’s any other combat fighters, technologically superior as they may be. After all, there were realatively few air to air combat missions for the F-15 in Gulf I, and those against a far inferior opponent. Even Vietnam didn’t provide the F-4 with the quantity and equal quality opponent as the the F-86 faced in Korea..
    The F-22 is a default winner for the 21st Century, so far. Nothing else has yet flown in anything but an experimental/prototype mode.

  9. Pamela Says:

    did you see any P-38’s or Corsairs there? Those are 2 of my faves from the WW II era.

    I was able to see Lefty Gardners P-38 at the Santa Maria Museum of Flight. My ex husband used to do allot of photography for them.

    P-38’s give me chills when I see it fly.

  10. Robin Roberts Says:

    The P-51 Mustang is of course legendary for its escort work. But I can’t help mentioning that before the longer-ranged P-51 showed up in large numbers, the P-47 did yeoman work starting the job of escorting bombers in 1943 as the allied bomber forces were just learning the job.

  11. david Says:

    I have to agree with the P-51 as the best fighter of the first half of the 20th century.

    The F4 was not in service until Vietnam. It’s my brother’s favorite aircraft since he observed many of the recon planes coming back half shot up but still flying. I haven’t decided what my favorite for the second half of the 20th century is, but I really like the A-10 though it obviously isn’t a fighter.

  12. Patrick W Says:

    Of course you colonial chaps have an entirely biased view of which fighter was the best in 1900-1950. It was the Spitfire. No bias in that opinion whatsoever you understand!

    Joking apart, different fighters had different missions. Long range escort, short range air superiority, naval air superiority, fighter-bomber, etc. There’s probably a good candidate for each. If you want to know which one would be your best bet in a simlpe head to head dogfight before 1950 then it’s one of the early jets.

  13. Doug Stewart Says:

    How many of y’all have read Boyd? Brilliant book about a brilliant man – it really changed the way I looked at the Air Force in particular and the military in general.

    His OODA loop theories were revolutionary and completely changed the way many in the military think about tactics and strategy

  14. Mark Says:

    Messerschmitt Me-262 – if we count non-American planes in this discussion.

  15. richard mcenroe Says:


  16. richard mcenroe Says:


  17. Full Auto Says:

    Great post, Will. Some friends and I do work at airshows accross North America, and one flyby that used to give chills was done at Kalamazoo MI. All Grumman missing man where it would be F6F, F4F, F7F F-14 where the F-14 would do a vertical pullup as the missing man. Awesome.

  18. Deacon Blues Says:

    Some of the American squadrons went to England and flew spitfires. These were taken away and replaced with the P-47 and the pilots were not happy. The P-47 was a great fighter-bomber but was to big and heavy in a dog-fight. The 109’s and FW 190’s could outclimb and out-turn them. It’s a toss up to me among the F4U, P-51, and Spitfire in a dogfight.

  19. Sandy P Says:

    What’s Vodka doing, hiding from the IRS????

  20. Chris Says:

    The F-22 (or is it F/A-22?) is the greatest fighter of the 21st Century? How many enemy aircraft has it splashed? How many bombs has it dropped in anger? Heck, how many operational, i.e. real world, sorties has it flown?

    Let us hold back our judgement on that title for just a bit.

  21. Anachronda Says:

    In a box somewhere, I have a photo of a Corsair and an A-7 Corsair II flying in formation during an air show at China Lake in 1983. The Corsair was going as fast as it could while the A-7 was desperately trying not to stall.

    The F-22 (or is it F/A-22?) is the greatest fighter of the 21st Century? How many enemy aircraft has it splashed? How many bombs has it dropped in anger? Heck, how many operational, i.e. real world, sorties has it flown?

    Umm, Chris, how many operational sorties has any 21st century fighter flown?

  22. Mikey Says:

    My fave is the P-38 Lightening. The aircraft still looks modern even though it is over sixty years old.

    For divebombers, the SBD Dauntless.

    Medium bombers, the B-26 Marauder. What a hot ship that was!

  23. amy Says:

    The F-22, is technically now the F/A-22, but it was the F-22 for so long that most still refer to it by that moniker.

    I’d also reserve judgement on the F-22’s until you see the F-35s in action. (Of course, I might be a bit biased as I work indirectly for the JSF team, and my father works directly for them. 🙂

  24. David [.net] Says:

    Of course you colonial chaps have an entirely biased view of which fighter was the best in 1900-1950

    But Patrick, if I remember correctly, the P-51 was originally developed for a British requirement. And certainly did not become the best fighter of its semicentury before it got its Merlin. It was a true Anglo-American success.

    But the Spitfire was definately the right plane at the right place at the right time.

  25. Tim P Says:

    If we can look at other nation’s planes, how about the ME-109?
    That plane accounted for more enemy planes shot down than all the others combined.

    Regarding the Raptor, since it’s coming to Elmendorf AFB, I’ll get to see it in person, I hope.

  26. Foster Says:

    “The F-22 is a default winner for the 21st Century, so far. Nothing else has yet flown in anything but an experimental/prototype mode.”

    Well, there is the Japanese JSF. . .

  27. JunkHead Says:

    Ironically, while cleaning out a closet today I ran across a picture my brother took while visting me at Moody AFB, from Hunter AAF. A night scene of the flightline, a row of F-16A’s of the 68th TFS/ 347th TFW. What a wonderful aircraft. Probably not in the same league as the F-15, but without a doubt the most agile fighter of the late 20th century. As versatile as the F-4, which it replaced at Moody shortly after my arrival.

  28. azlibertarian Says:

    I knew the minute I read your post that the comments would be filled with a debate on whose fighter was really best. I hate to break it to you fighter guys, but the best military plane ever is the C-130. Tactics wins battles; Logistics wins wars.

  29. richard mcenroe Says:

    Deacon Blues

  30. Captain Ned Says:

    My mind was made up for me at a local airshow in the early ’80s. Two P-51s were putting on a mock dogfight and they both peeled off for a low pass. As they approached the crowd they both went to full throttle, no more than 50 feet over the runway. I shall never forget the glorious sound of two Merlin engines at full cry. In fact, just typing this causes chills at the remembrance of that sound.

    At that moment, I knew full well what my first purchase would be should I ever win a mega-lottery prize.

  31. African Moonbat Says:

    Billy Beck, Tim P,
    I remember reading some where, sadly I cannot remember where, that more than 50% of all aircraft destroyed in combat operations fell to the guns of the Messerschmidt BF 109. Even when past its prime it was deadly in the hands of an experienced pilot, as was shown towards the end of the war when a 109 flown by Major Erich Hartman accounted for four P51Ds in very short order.

    Great post Will.

  32. buffpilot Says:

    Good grief, you guys are a bunch of fighter weenies! Why fly a support aircraft, P-51 to F-22, when you can fly the best? The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress! or more commonly the BUFF (Big Ugly Fat F*****). First flight in the early 50s, Vietnam workhorse, dropped the most tonnage of any aircraft in the first Gulf War. Same with Afghanistan (where the 12 B-52, 8 B-1, some tankers and a few 100 SOF took down a country! – no fighters required!). Almost did the same with GW II (edged barely by the B-1) but did drop more individual weapons than anyone. Carries a larger variety of weapons than ANYBODY in the world.

    Best of all its paid for – last plane built in 1962 – and is the cheapest of the three bombers to operate/hour.

    A friendly nod to azlibertarian – thanks for bringing the bombs to the show!

    (Yea I’m biased after 3500 hours in the BUFF (with another 1500 in the E-3))

    amy – you guys hiring down in Texas?

  33. Deacon Blues Says:

    Richard, thanks. I just finished reading “the Mighty Eighth” and that’s where I read about the Spitfire pilots who were transfered to P-47’s. It seems they all hated the P-39 but in Saburo Sakai’s book he claimed the best pilot he ever came up against was flying a P-39. He could not get on this guy’s tail until apparantly he ran low on fuel and made a run for home whereby Saburo was finally able to shoot him down. A lot also has to do with a pilot’s ability and the tactics involved.

  34. buffpilot Says:

    Forgot on last thing:

    Fighters are fun, Bombers make history!

  35. Drew Says:

    All the pretty little things that fly so fast….humbug. When bad guys need killing nobody does it as cool as Spectre.

  36. JunkHead Says:

    This is the liveliest debate I’ve seen here.

    Fighters v. Bombers, hmmmm. If not for fighter support bombers would never make their targets. Dogfighting skills v. flying high and dropping iron. No contest.

    Air supperiority is achieved only through fighter aircraft. Case closed.

  37. JunkHead Says:

    Superiority. Damned fingers.

  38. richard mcenroe Says:

    Steve, that’s some real CBS-grade Photoshopping you got going on there… (as in, “it might fool Dan Rather…”)

  39. Jim Says:

    “Man, that ‘stang must have been pedal-to-the-metal for that flyby…”

    Posted by richard mcenroe at April 27, 2005 07:11 PM

    Stall & landing speed of all modern fighters is, was and always shall be well under 200 kts IAS. Wheels up and flaps down, a slow 200 might be mushy, but not endangering the lower “edge of the envelope”, as it were.

    Conversely, maximum IAS for the P-51-D, P-38, etc. ad nauseum, is well above 400 kts IAS, and most of the other WWII warbirds would hit or exceed 350 kts.

    In other words, the Mustang would not have to be anywhere near “pedal-to-the-metal” in order to cruise with a modern jet loafing along at oh, 250 to 325 kts IAS.

    I live under the final approach to Shoales Field in Galveston (offset maybe 1/3 mile to the left), where planes average 300 ft AGL on this part of the approach.

    And this is the home of the Lone Star Flight Museum. I get free airshows from the deck of my boat, almost nonstop in the spring and fall. Now I just need a Nikon digital SLR to mount my old F-2s lenses to.

    Nothing like seeing a B-17 in the air with a Spit, Mustang and Corsair in close formation!

    Sloop New Dawn
    Galveston, TX

  40. Will Collier Says:

    No Photoshopping there, that’s a real picture. Hit my mailbox straight from Langley this morning. The photog was in an F-15D nearby.

  41. SgtFranz Says:

    azlibertarian, I think the C-47 edges out the C-130 as tac airlifter of the century in light of its success in WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, and plenty of wars the US never even showed up for.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’d take a Herc any day.

  42. Victor Krueger Says:

    What would be cool would be a flyby of A-10, A-1, and P-47 together.

  43. Gromulin Says:

    Technology be damned. The P-51 is the sexiest machine ever conceived of by Man.

  44. azlibertarian Says:

    Yeah, I understand all about the need for Air Superiority, and let’s all admit that fighters of all vintages are sexy. The problem our air forces face today is that they are a victim of their own success. Fer Chrissakes, Saddam (admittedly a Class 1 military idiot) buried his fighters in the sand rather than put them in the air in whatever futile attempt at air defense he might have had in mind. Fighters have always been extraordinarily expensive items, but today, as perhaps never before, one has to ask: In a world where the asymmetric “Insurgent Wars” are just as likely as conventional wars to engage our forces, just how many boots-on-the-ground does it cost to keep that plane in the air? Money spent on something blue is money that won’t be spent on something green (or Coyote Brown, if you will).

    Of course, then we’d have to begin to think about China.

  45. joel Rossol Says:

    so.. you douldn’t have color-corrected and adjusted this image for us??? come on… it isn’t hard

  46. joel Rossol Says:

    so.. you douldn’t have color-corrected and adjusted this image for us??? come on… it isn’t hard

  47. leelu Says:

    …and we’re starting to use the C-17 as a tac airlifter.

    Been busy in SW Asia.

    That should pretty much cover this century.


  48. JSAllison Says:


    P38/Martin B26 for WWII

    F100/B47 for the 50s

    After that they just started gettin ugly.

    Now the A10/AH64 combo goes beyond ugly to a whole new level.

    Nice TF-51 though, extended vert stabilizer and second head in the cockpit give it away.

  49. amy Says:

    buffpilot > There seems to be a steady stream of engineers, but they like to hire them straight out of college, that way they can pay them crap.

  50. SFC SKI Says:

    I love seeing those fly-bys, a few weeks ago I saw an F-15 and a P-51 together at MacDill AFB, what a sight it was. Amazing how different they are in size.

    As for Phantoms, yes, they are the plane that gets my vote, too.

    If the Joint Strike Fighter ever comes to furition and is fielded by the US Navy, Marines, and former Army Air Corps (I can’t resist), the JSF should be called the Phantom III, after all, it was the last fighter to be fielded by all 3 services.

  51. wolfwalker Says:

    Last year at the Dayton Air Show there was a collection of warbirds: F4F, F6F, P-51, P-47, a couple of Corsairs… and an F-15 or three. Three of the Mustangs joined up with an F-15 and flew several passes in a nice diamond formation.

    As for the “greatest fighter of the War” thing… I can name a dozen contendas off the top of my head: P-38, P-47, P-51, Hellcat, Corsair, Bf-109, Spitfire, Hurricane, FW-190, Zero, Shiden-Kai (George), and Ki-84 Hayate (Frank). And could make a good case for every one of ’em. Of them all, I personally think the P-38 deserves the title of “greatest,” not only because it could match any other fighter on either side when well-flown, nor for its tremendous tactical and strategic value (no other fighter has ever matched the P-38 for unrefueled combat radius), but also because it had a greater effect on post-WW2 fighter doctrine than any other fighter on any side.

    On the other hand, if you want greatest warplane, then I agree with Sgt Franz: the title for 1900-1950 goes to the DC-3, and for 1950-2000 it goes to the C-130. There wasn’t anywhere a Gooney Bird couldn’t go. They made ’em with wheels, they made ’em with floats, they made ’em with skis. The C-130 was designed by Lockheed partly as the next DC-3, and they succeeded — the Herky-bird has never been out of production, and it can go anywhere and do anything you ask of it.

  52. richard mcenroe Says:


  53. richard mcenroe Says:

    Will Collier… Riiiiiiiight. And it got e-mailed to Langley from a Kinko’s in Texas? Is that Lucy Ramirez in the front seat of the Mustang?

  54. buffpilot Says:

    Thanks amy, I’m looking – would like to sell and move back to God’s country (Texas for the rest of you) before the housing bubble blows up here on the east coast. And I go for a little more than a new college grad…

    The A-10 is ugly but like the BUFF it gets the dirty jobs done the first time.

  55. African Moonbat Says:

    You are right.

  56. richard mcenroe Says:


  57. Chris Says:

    Junk Head,
    Air Superiority is my infantry on your runway.

  58. Erik Says:

    Just an incredible picture of Air Dominance. Thanks Mr. Collier

  59. richard mcenroe Says:


  60. Robin Goodfellow Says:

    Two Russian tank commanders meet on the Champs Elys

  61. Crusader Says:

    F4U beats the P-51 anyday overall. First to go over 400mph, carried the largest bombload of a WW II fighter (thanks Lucky Lindy!), met the P-51 in combat once and won (Soccer War), produced longer, more flexable (try landing a P-51 on a carrier), radial could absorb more damage and just a 1000 times better looking.

    “When you’re out of F-8’s, you’re out of fighters.”

    As for jets, I couldn’t have said it better. If only they had fully developed the Crusader III….

  62. qcifer Says:

    If it has wings & a motor of some sort, I like it. But I stand in awe of the guys who have gone up & fought in aircraft they knew were outmatched. Avenger pilots, P-40 pilots, bomber crews on unescorted day raids, the list can go on & on. Courage like theirs is more inspiring than the machines they strapped on. There is such a thing as earned honor

  63. Captain Ned Says:

    Here’s some info on the P-51 in the pic:

    As best as I can tell, it started life as a Block 25 P-51D and was converted to a TF-51 in 1984 specifically for type familiarisation/certification duties.

  64. Confederate Yankee Says:

    Am I nuts, or is everyone missing the hulking Tomcat in the room?

    I don’t have a favorite horse in this particular race, but the F-14 has been around forever, and still has the longest attack range and can handle the most targets at once of any air superiority fighter I’m aware of in the later half of the 20th century, though I may very well be wrong on all counts.

    I also like the choice of the ME 262 in the first half of the 20th Century. It wasn’t the plane’s fault they didn’t get enough built nor have enough expereinced pilots alive by the time it came out. Those that did fly were nearly impossible to stop (or catch), and with their overwhelming firepower, could down anything in their path. Not even the venerable ‘Stang could do much when 262s sliced through a bomber formation with quad 20mm’s blazing. Not to mention is was the most visually pleasing of the early jets (IMHO).

    As for the next centry, I’ll reserve judgement on annointing the F22 until it has fired a few hundred shots in anger. Right now, it is just a paper tiger.

  65. madawaskan Says:

    The F-22

    If Barney Frank could imagine a son that he loved flying it or it being a toy that he LOVED that thing would be gold plated and diamond encrusted and we’d be flying it operationally by now.


    My Dad flew the F-4 and he said it was like being strapped to a rocket-I don’t know if that is a favorable review-at least he didn’t call it a ground dart which I think he reserves for the P-38?

  66. richard mcenroe Says:


  67. Viperdriver Says:

    All great fighters and some great comments, but I take offense to anyone thinking the F-16 isn’t “in the same class” as the F-15C. Why do you ask the kid from the 71st FS at Langley who I flew against last week? In a one v one dogfight (called BFM, basic fighter manuevers), I kicked his ass every which way from Sunday on 4 sets. Of course, it could be the fact I had 3x as many hours as him. Or it could be the fact the F-16 is the greatest dogfighter ever built. And we more than hold our own against the mighty Eagle in 4v4 and larger engagements.

    As for the Tomcat…look, I loved Top Gun, too, but the F-14 is the most overrated fighter ever built. The Phoenix missile is a non-starter vs fighter sized targets and it can’t out-maneuver a C-17. It had it’s day, and it was short-lived.

    Don’t let any A-10 pilots hear you say they aren’t fighter pilots.

    Bomber pilots finished last in their pilot training classes.

    Check Six

  68. richard mcenroe Says:

    “Bomber pilots finished last in their pilot training classes.”

    That’s gonna cheer up the trash haulers…

  69. viperdriver Says:

    okay, okay…bomber pilots finish ahead of other random heavy drivers. And chopper pilots. Heh.

  70. richard mcenroe Says:


  71. African Moonbat Says:


    The aircreaft that literally changed the world. my choice in no particular order:
    Wright Flyer
    Avro 504 (the first aircraft that always did what the pilot wanted)
    DC 3
    B 29
    Lockheed Hercules
    Boeing 707
    Boeing 747

    Odd that only one was designed as a combat aircraft

  72. Pauly Says:

    For the pre-1950 plane I’ve got to go the Fokker DVII. As part of the Versailles Treaty Germany had to destroy all of these because the allies were afraid of how far these planes outmatched their own (The sopwith Snipe at least matched the DVII, but was only introduced in the last months of the First War). It represented a technological leap over its rivals unequalled in warplane history.

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