Fighter Plane Statistics

Quote of the Day

A mathematician is a person who can find analogies between theorems; a better mathematician is one who can see analogies between proofs and the best mathematician can notice analogies between theories. One can imagine that the ultimate mathematician is one who can see analogies between analogies.

— Stefan Banach


Introduction

Figure 1: F4 Phantom. (Source)

Figure 1: F4 Phantom. This aircraft has the most kills of any active jet fighter. (Source)

I was reading  a post on Quora that contained the following statement fragment, "…  primarily the F16[,] which has more kills than any fighter jet in history."  The statement did not seem like it could be correct because the operational tempo of modern air-to-air operations is not like it was during the Vietnam War or the various Middle East conflicts (e.g Iran-Iraq War).

So I prowled around the web and found a site that seemed to have some good information on the combat history of active jet fighters, including the F-16. I thought I would use this question as a vehicle for sharpening my Power Query and Excel web scraping skills by making a comparison table between the active duty fighter jets.

Background

All the data for this post came from this web site. I did find a couple of inconsistencies in the data the listed loss totals for the MiG-21, MiG-23, and Mirage F1 were off a small amount from the sum of the individual battle totals. I used the sum of individual battle totals here.

Analysis

I used Power Query to access the data and clean it up. I then used a pivot table to summarize the results. If you are interested in my workbook, I include it here. Because there was so much uncertainty in the data for ground losses, I did not include that data in the table.

Here are my results. As I suspected, the list is led by a couple of old warhorses, the F-4 and the MiG-21. The F-16 is sixth on the list.

Figure 2: Table of Fighter Victories and Losses.

Figure 2: Table of Fighter Victories and Losses.

Conclusion

There are some additional observations we can make about this data:

  • Most of the F-14's combat kills came when it was used by Iran in the Iran-Iraq War.  Of the 135 kills, only 5 involved the US.
  • While not shown in Figure 2, the F-4 suffered 545 losses due to ground fire, 447 of which were during the Vietnam War. This is far more than were lost in air-to-air combat. I assume most of these losses were on ground attack missions – very difficult work.
  • While the Sea Harrier is considered a ground attack aircraft, its record of 21 kills with no losses in the Falklands War shows that it has some air-to-air capabilities. I am sure that the superb training of the Fleet Air Arm pilots has much to do with this record. The Harrier has some unique capabilities (e.g. viffing) that may be useful in some combat situations (commentary).
  • The kill-to-loss ratio for the MiGs does not appear to be very good. However, most of these losses involved non-Russian pilots flying export versions of these craft. I could not find data involving only Russian pilots.
  • The newest fighters have not been tested in combat yet (thankfully). This set includes:
 
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