Oldest Jet Fighter Still in Service

Oldest Jet Fighter Still in Service

Attacks can come from anywhere. Be it ground, water, or air. Fighter jets are military aircraft built for air combat. It defends us against enemy planes, and it also attacks targets on the ground. They are important for modern air warfare, helping nations protect their skies and interests. 

These jet fighters have been around for a while, so let’s look at some of the oldest jet fighters still in service. 

6. General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon (1974)

Year: 1974
Country of Origin: United States
Still Operational: Yes

General Dynamics F-16 Fighting FalconPhoto Source: Wikimedia Commons

The F-16 Fighting Falcon, also known as the “Viper,” is a single-engine fighter developed by General Dynamics. It’s known for its agility, exceptional thrust-to-weight ratio, and versatility. With a maximum speed of over Mach 2, it has been an asset for many air forces, including the United States Air Force.

European countries, including Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway, also produced F-16s through co-production agreements, with the aircraft being manufactured in Europe.

Over 4,600 F-16 aircraft have been built since production was approved in 1976, making it one of the most popular and widely used fighter aircraft ever.

Did you know?

The F-16 won the Air Combat Fighter (ACF) competition in 1975, securing its place in the U.S. Air Force. The ACF program aimed to select a multirole fighter bomber for the Air Force.

5. McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle (1972)

Year: 1972
Country of Origin: United States
Still Operational: Yes

McDonnell Douglas F-15 EaglePhoto Source: Wikimedia Commons

The F-15 Eagle is primarily an air superiority fighter designed to gain and maintain control of the airspace, ensuring that enemy aircraft are kept at bay. It entered service with the United States Air Force on 9 January 1976. The primary users of the F-15 Eagle include the United States Air Force, Japan Air Self-Defense Force, Royal Saudi Air Force, and Israeli Air Force. The F-15 has been in production since 1972, with various variants and upgrades produced over the years.

Different variants of the F-15 have been developed, including the McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle, the McDonnell Douglas F-15 STOL/MTD, and the Mitsubishi F-15J.

Did you know?

The F-15 Eagle has achieved over 100 victories in aerial combat, with the majority of these credited to the Israeli Air Force.

4. Grumman F-14 Tomcat (1970)

Year: 1970
Country of Origin: United States
Still Operational: No (Retired by the U.S. Navy, but still used by Iran)

Grumman F-14 Tomcat

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Grumman F-14 Tomcat was an American carrier-capable fighter aircraft with the role of an interceptor, air superiority fighter, and multirole fighter. It originated in the United States and was manufactured by Grumman. The F-14 Tomcat made its first flight on December 21, 1970, and was introduced on September 22, 1974.

It was retired from service with the United States Navy on September 22, 2006, and is no longer in active use with them. However, the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force continued to operate the F-14 Tomcat as of 2022. A total of 712 F-14 Tomcats were built.

Did you know?

The F-14 was also exported to Pahlavi, Iran, and used as a land-based interceptor by the Imperial Iranian Air Force.

3. Chengdu J-7 (1966)

Year: 1966
Country of Origin: China (based on Soviet technology)
Still Operational: Yes

Chengdu J-7Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

The J-7 is a result of a technology transfer arrangement signed between the Soviet Union and China in 1962 related to the MiG-21. This agreement allowed China to obtain the technology to build the aircraft.

The Chinese engineers had to reverse-engineer parts of the MiG-21 because the Soviet documentation was incomplete. Areas of difference between the J-7 and the MiG-21 include the hydraulic systems and internal fuel arrangements.

Over time, various models of the J-7 were developed, with improvements in areas like armament, avionics, and wing design. While it primarily serves with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), many international operators have also used the J-7. The Pakistan Air Force, in particular, is one of its largest operators.

The J-7 was succeeded by newer Chinese fighter aircraft, including the JF-17 Thunder multirole fighter. However, it remained in service with various export customers.

Did you know?

Domestic production of the J-7 started in 1964, but it was hampered by the Cultural Revolution, which caused delays and initial quality issues.

2. Northrop F-5 (1959)

Year: 1959
Country of Origin: United States
Still Operational: Yes

Northrop F-5Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Northrop F-5 is a family of supersonic light fighter aircraft. It was designed in the late 1950s by Northrop Corporation. The family includes the F-5A/B Freedom Fighter and F-5E/F Tiger II variants. These aircraft are known for their cost-effectiveness and performance.

The F-5A entered service in the early 1960s.

The F-5E Tiger II, introduced in 1972, had upgraded engines and avionics. F-5s served in roles such as air superiority and ground attack. The F-5 family has been used by various air forces worldwide. Over 1,200 F-5A/B/C/D and 1,399 F-5E/F aircraft were built.

Did you know?

The F-5 influenced the development of other aircraft, like the F/A-18.

1. Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 (1955)

Year: 1955
Country of Origin: Soviet Union
Still Operational: Yes

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

The MiG-21, also known as “Fishbed,” is a supersonic jet fighter and interceptor. Developed by the Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau in the Soviet Union. It was influenced by earlier Soviet jet fighters, like the MiG-15 and MiG-17.

Initial designs featured swept wings, but the production variant had delta wings. The aircraft had a characteristic shock cone and front air intake. The MiG-21’s design made it a lightweight fighter capable of Mach 2 speeds. It had a short range due to its fuel tank placement, making it necessary to use external tanks.

The delta wing design limited its turning capabilities. The MiG-21 featured a unique engine system for temporary power boosts. It was widely exported and favored for its low production and maintenance costs.

Did you know?

Over 10,000 MiG-21 aircraft were built in the USSR, with various factories involved in production.

Check out these oldest planes that are still flying!


Over time, fighter jets have seen incredible technological improvements, evolving from older propeller-driven planes to super-fast supersonic jets. They remain essential for a country’s defense and military plans, showcasing continuous advancements in air superiority and technology that keep us safe.

These 6 oldest jet fighters in the world, which are still in service, had a lot of history throughout decades. 

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