It's never a good idea to glorify war, but holy shit do fighter planes make it hard not to. It's not just the badassery of the machines themselves, but the fact that being a fighter pilot takes a special kind of balls that borders on crazy.
As a result, the aerial "dogfights" that have raged for the last century have provided the world with some truly insane battles. Like ...
#5. One Battle, Almost 200 Fighter Jets
As usual, in 1982, Israel found itself at war with its neighbors. This time the opponent was Syria. This was the fourth time since 1948 that Syria found themselves at war with Israel, and battles rarely went their way.
Syria's military is the Detroit Lions of the Middle East.
But on June 9, 1982, this war spawned the largest air battle in history. Nearly 200 planes swarmed the skies in a display that military historians agree looked exactly like that huge air battle at the end of Independence Day.
Above: Powerful symbolism.
The whole thing started with Israel's Operation Mole Cricket 19, which not only is the lamest name for a military operation we've ever heard, but apparently there had been 18 previous operations named that. Anyway, the goal was to knock out the Syrian anti-aircraft missile sites that were threatening the Israeli jets. The Israelis sent in 96 aircraft, including F-15 Eagles (which by the way, to this day have a perfect record in combat) ...
... along with several other types of fighters, including F-4 Phantoms and F-16 Falcons.
The Syrian Air Force responded by flooding the sky with 100 of their own jets, mostly Soviet-made MiG fighters, like the MiG-23:
The Israelis first swept in and destroyed the anti-aircraft sites on the ground. Then the two swarms of fighter jets went at it in a blizzard of missiles and gatling gun fire. The aerial hellstorm went on for nearly two hours.
Of the 100 Syrian jets, 80 of them went plummeting to the earth in flames.
Of the 96 Israeli fighters ... zero were lost.
Several Israeli pilots did injure their jaws while yawning.
The Israelis called off the attack, because they knew they'd have to come back and take out the anti-air batteries that would surely replace the ones they'd destroyed. But they also probably felt kind of sorry for the Syrians, considering they had just obliterated pretty much their entire air force in one shot.
If you're thinking that makes the Israeli Air Force look pretty goddamned serious, well ...
#4. Outnumbered 28 to 1
On October 6, 1973, Egypt and Israel were at war, and not for the first time. Yeah, they get a lot of practice over there.
"This is like a vacation for us!"
Egypt thought it was a good idea to attack the Ofir Air Force Base in the Sinai Peninsula, which was held by Israel at the time. They sent 28 Soviet-made MiGs, mostly MiG-17s (which are notable for looking exactly like the planes a child draws on the back of a notebook):
Meanwhile, down at the base the Egyptians were about to attack, pilot Amir Nahumi was sitting on the ground in his F-4 Phantom fighter jet, with his fellow pilot Daniel Shaki. They were probably discussing how it was a perfectly average, quiet day and how surely nothing out of the ordinary would happen.
It was one of those afternoons where you just spend hours hanging out and taunting the UAVs.
All of a sudden, MiGs were swarming over the base. Shaki and Nahumi waited for orders to take off and repel the attack ... but none came. Thinking, "Fuck the orders," Nahumi and Shaki decided to take off and fight the MiGs by themselves.
Come get some.
Right after takeoff, they saw the runway below them get blown to shit. Which meant no one else would be able to take off to help them. Not giving a rat's ass about this clearly minor setback, The two pilots proceeded to take on all 28 MiGs.
Shaki and Nahumi managed to shoot down one of the MiGs. Then they managed to shoot down another one. And another. And another.
"Somebody find us more Egyptians."
In six minutes, this one lone plane blew seven enemy jets out of the sky. But of course you can't overcome those kind of odds forever, and the remaining 21 jets finally coordinated and ...
... got the hell out of there before they could be shot down, too. Did we mention that Nahumi was partially blinded by the sun during the battle (due to light reflecting off the skins of the MiGs)? And that he was flying on one engine after the other stalled, not due to enemy fire, but due to smoke from his own gun?
The Israelis celebrate the battle's anniversary every year with the traditional paper jet dance.
#3. Unarmed Plane vs. Iraqi Fighter Jet
It was January 17, 1991, and Desert Storm had just kicked off. At the head of the opening salvo of explosions were Captains James Denton and Brent Brandon. They were piloting an EF-111 Raven, which is basically a fighter/bomber that has been modified to be a radar jammer. So all of its weapons had been taken out, and replaced with the equipment to send out the powerful signals that would confuse the radar on whatever Iraqi weapons would try to shoot at the ridiculously large strike force of bombers coming in behind them.
Above: The EF-111 "Declawed Kitten" variant.
So, even though they weren't carrying bombs or missiles of their own, their job was crucial. If they failed, the Iraqis could lock on and create mass havoc for the dozens of bombers in the strike force.
To up the danger level, the night time bombing mission was flying between two major Iraqi Air Bases. When the Iraqis realized their radars were being jammed, they sent up some of their best fighter jets. One Iraqi jet, a highly maneuverable and heavily armed Dassualt Mirage F1 ...
Above: Dassault Mirage "Bristling with Goddamn Missiles" variant.
... spotted the unarmed EF-111 and went in for the kill.
Very quickly, Denton turned in an attempt to avoid the attacking Mirage. However, within seconds, the more maneuverable Mirage had locked onto Denton and fired a missile at him and Brandon who spotted it and called to his captain. The missile was a heat-seeker, homing in on the heat pouring out of their own engines.
Note: A missile is much faster than an F-111.
Denton did the only thing he could do -- he yanked on the stick and banked the plane into a 5-G turn, which was as about as much force as that aircraft could take without something important breaking off of it from the stress.
He was actually banking closer to the missile. Next, he unleashed a cloud of "chaff", which is handfuls of aluminum foil (no, really) meant to confuse the missile's tracking system.
It worked, and the missile sailed away into the night. But the Iraqi fighter was still there, and had lots of extra missiles. It continued to chase them through their turn, and no amount of aluminum foil was going to stop it. At this point, the two aircraft are skimming along at just 400 feet off the ground. In the dark. Jets do not have headlights.
The Iraqi plane locked on again, ready to fire.
The American pilots formed their fingers into pistols and made "pew" sounds as a defensive precaution.
At that moment, the pilot of a nearby American fighter jet (an F-15 Eagle, like those mentioned in the first entry) finally spotted his unarmed comrade about to get blown apart in the distance. He would lock on to try a long-range shot to save his fellow pilots' lives ...
... but he'd never get a chance to pull the trigger. Denton, in his F-111, barely cleared a ridge. But the Iraqi pilot didn't -- he crashed and exploded into a fireball. This is known in military circles as the "Han Solo losing TIE fighters in an asteroid field" maneuver, or at least it should be.
The Air Force Academy still refuses to acknowledge General Solo's accomplishments in the field of pilotry.
Denton and Brandon were awarded with Distinguished Flying Crosses for performing the only known kill of a jet by an unarmed aircraft.