Exclusive extract: supersonic stealth jets

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Supersonic stealth jets


How the fifth generation of fighter aircraft will conquer the skies


We’ve come a long way from the Wright brothers. Their first powered flight in 1903 consisted of a rudimentary wooden glider powered by propellers that reached a modest speed of 43 kilometres per hour. Now, more than a century later, a fleet of advanced supersonic stealth fighter jets are taking to the skies, capable of going undetected by radar and reaching speeds far in excess of the speed of sound – Mach 1 – which is around 1,235 kilometres per hour depending on air pressure and temperature.

The US was the first country to develop a so-called fifth-generation fighter with its F-22 aircraft, loosely defined as being a jet that has advanced stealth capabilities despite being armed, sleek designs to carve through the air and the capability of cruising at supersonic speeds without the use of fuel-hungry afterburners. But while the US currently dominates the field, Russia and China are quickly making headway, and many are already excited about what’s next on the horizon, with artificial intelligence and autonomous flight all expected to play a part in the future of fighters.

Stealth fighter jets are iconic in their design and capabilities. They can enable rapid response to conflict, striking targets while remaining almost completely undetected. Their smooth and sleek bodies hide powerful weaponry under their skin, with the jets designed to have as few obtrusive parts as possible to give them a low radar cross-section (RCS). Powerful engines enable speeds of up to Mach 2, and pilots are given advanced helmets and technologies to help them locate and destroy targets.

The US F-22 has been operational since 2005, but we’ve recently also seen the American F-35 – delayed by more than a decade and significantly over budget – enter service in 2015. The start of 2018, meanwhile, has seen both Russia and China’s first stealth fighter jets; the Su-57 and J-20 respectively. Other countries including India, Japan and Turkey are now developing their own such vehicles as a new wave of advanced warfare takes place in the skies.

Over the next few pages we’ve run through some of the major players in stealth fighter jet technology and outlined some of the key features that make them so formidable. The Wright brothers may have changed the world with their fateful flight, but as the saying goes, you ain’t seen nothing yet.


You can read the rest of the feature in our latest issue


Extract from Supersonic stealth jets by Jonny O’Callaghan. Featured in How It Works 110.

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