How would modern jet fighters engage and defeat prop driven fighters? Assuming all things being equal (avionics, weapons, etc), if the two aircraft were co-altitude in a level merge, what tactics would the jet use to quickly overwhelm his adversary?

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    $\begingroup$ If I remember correctly, Chuck Yeager used to demonstrate dogfighting jets in his Mustang, and winning $\endgroup$
    – rbp
    Feb 8, 2015 at 22:06
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    $\begingroup$ A modern jet would fire an AIM-120D from 50 nm then go home or find another target. $\endgroup$ Jan 20, 2017 at 11:15
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    $\begingroup$ Or you could just turn on full afterburner and run away... $\endgroup$
    – dalearn
    Jan 20, 2017 at 14:18
  • $\begingroup$ Like this youtu.be/oyjNInIH4Hw?t=3m56s $\endgroup$ Jan 21, 2017 at 0:48

4 Answers 4



Assuming neither aircraft tried for a head-on guns snapshot, the goal of the jet against the prop will be to go out of plane with the prop post merge and deny the prop a quick guns solution. By far the easiest way for the jet to go out of plane is to extend and then take the fight vertically. This means that the jet is in full AB coming into the merge and well above cornering speed, while the prop is coming into the merge at its best corning speed hoping to get a quick snapshot. As the aircraft approach both pilots tighten down and pass as close as possible to prevent either aircraft from taking angles right after the merge (ie, so that neither aircraft has a turning advantage immediately post merge).

Post Merge

As the aircraft make their first pass, the prop (knowing full well the jet will take the fight vertically) begins a max performance turn hoping to quickly take angles and give itself a quick snapshot against the jet as the jet climbs. However, the jet, knowing the prop is looking for a radius fight, extends the merge horizontally, at Mach 1+ and then begins a supersonic climb upwards. Due to the lower thrust to weight ratio of the prop, most of the props potential energy comes in the form of its altitude; however, the jet has liquid potential energy in the form of fuel, and many can accelerate in the vertical, this gives the jet a decided advantage against the prop. Because the prop cannot climb with the jet, and the jet is now outside of its guns range, the prop must remain at altitude and wait for the jet to attack.

Out of Plane

The jet, moving vertically, has now successfully moved out of plane with the prop rendering the turning radius of the prop moot. An unchallenged out of plane maneuver is certain victory for the jet. The jet can now cut the turning circle of the defender from above. The best hope for the prop is to either pull hard into the jet trying to force an overshoot (and hope that the jet isn't already anticipating this and drawing a wall of lead between this anticipated spot and his current location) or, to wait until the last minute and pull into the vertical with the jet (causing a vertical merge) and hope for a head-on snapshot. Either way, the jet can quickly disengage vertically again, causing the prop to bleed precious energy with these high G maneuvers, and then reengage when he has the advantage again. Each time the jet disengages, the prop is left scrambling to regain its depleted energy, and the jet is maneuvering to prevent the prop from ever being able to fully recover. This means that as the prop dives to gain speed, the jet dives after it, forcing another high G pull from the prop for another overshoot, or, if the prop tries to extend horizontally, the jet attacks again, forcing the prop to use more energy.


The jet will either force a mistake out of the prop and kill it, or the prop will eventually run out of altitude and airspeed and either auger into the ground, or be killed when he doesn't have the energy to force the overshoot, or climb vertically again. This, of course, ignores things like thrust vectoring, and the flight computers, in aircraft like the super hornet, which give certain Gen 4/5 aircraft supermaneuverability--meaning, post merge, most Gen 4/5 aircraft could just out rate the prop and the fight would likely be over in seconds.

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    $\begingroup$ Being that I'm still in the baby BFM stages, are they teaching guys outside of training (actual engagement) to go for high aspect guns kill? High aspect in AA > 135 degrees or so. $\endgroup$
    – user3309
    Feb 9, 2015 at 1:58
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    $\begingroup$ @keelerjr12 you've got to remember, there are no training rules in real life. Forward quarter gun shots, merges under 500ft, everything is legal when someone is actively trying to kill you. In this scenario, as the prop, I'd have to assume a high aspect kill was my only option, and as the jet I'd be fighting to deny that shot. You're going to have to have a fluid game plan in real life, and if your opponent is obviously looking for a forward quarter shot then you'll have to adjust accordingly. In training though, as you know, the mid air risk precludes those shots. $\endgroup$ Feb 9, 2015 at 3:35
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    $\begingroup$ That's what I was wondering, thanks! $\endgroup$
    – user3309
    Feb 9, 2015 at 3:36
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    $\begingroup$ In an actual encounter, much depends on how much fuel each adversary has left. If no pilot makes a dumb mistake, the one with the longer flying time wins. $\endgroup$ Feb 9, 2015 at 21:43
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    $\begingroup$ @PeterKämpf That rarely happens, even among fights between like aircraft, with equal load outs and equal fuel. Somebody always makes an error (however minor), its the human condition. I've seen fights stagnate, but there always seemed like there would be an eventual winner. $\endgroup$ Feb 9, 2015 at 21:51

Note: This answer is from the original version of the question, which specified a P-51 and an F-22.

What chance would a P-51 have against an F-22? None whatsoever.

The F-22 pilot would spot the P-51 on radar as soon as it came over the horizon, pop off an AIM-120D or similar missile at a range of 100 miles, and depart, without the P-51 ever coming within engagement range. The P-51 pilot would probably never even be aware of the presence of the F-22.

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    $\begingroup$ This is a valid answer to the current question. But I think "close-quarters" was meant more than "subsonic." $\endgroup$
    – fooot
    Feb 8, 2015 at 5:53
  • $\begingroup$ But I think "close-quarters" was meant more than "subsonic." Yes. In a dogfight. $\endgroup$
    – erbdex
    Feb 8, 2015 at 13:07
  • $\begingroup$ This answer is only valid for permissive RoE that allows a BVR engagement. You might want to offer that caveat. (It is otherwise IMO very succinctly put). No need to shoot at 100 miles. The chances of being seen at 30 - 50 are pretty small, particularly given the speed advantage F-22 has in terms of choosing an approach angle (more or less with sun behind them) before taking the shot. $\endgroup$ Nov 10, 2018 at 15:36

How would modern jet fighters engage and defeat prop driven fighters?

If you'd asked that question some decades ago, the answer might have been:

They might not ...

Rather than pull away and make a hasty retreat to the safety of their carrier’s air defense net, the four pilots broke formation and turned towards the eight approaching jets, ready to give the enemy pilots the fight they were itching for. Drawing upon one of the most reliable maneuvers taught to pilots at the time, the four pilots began moving in scissor patterns, attempting to draw their pursuers into an overshoot while presenting themselves to be difficult, if not impossible, targets to get a good bead on. Each pilot was aiming to get into position for a high deflection shot if the opportunity presented itself. The eight MiGs split up into groups of two, each flying after two Sea Furies. Neither group of aggressors were able to hit their quarry, owing to the practiced skill of the four Royal Navy pilots. In the fray of the battle, one MiG, broken away from his flight, screamed towards Carmichael. This time, there would be only room for a split-second action, and Hoagy took it, loosing a burst of cannon fire in the MiGs direction as he rushed past. Banking and then jinking away, Carmichael was unable to get a clear picture on his recent foe, but from radio chatter presumed that Sub-Lt. Haines managed to get a fairly decent hit on the same fighter too. After the third and fourth pilots in the formation, Lt. Pete Davis and Sub-Lt. Brian Ellis hurled more lead in the direction of the retreating MiG, the stricken aircraft began spewing an incredible amount of smoke. It then veered sharply off course and smashed into the ground, ending the day for the remaining MiG pilots.


“I fired a short burst at the MiG and missed, but got the MiG pilot’s attention. He turned into us, making a head-on pass. Charlie and I fired simultaneously as he passed so close that Charlie thought I had hit his vertical stabilizer with the tip of my tail hook. Both of us fired all four guns. Charlie’s rounds appeared to go down the intake and into the wing root, and mine along the top of the fuselage and through the canopy. He never returned our fire, rolled, inverted, and hit a small hill, exploding and burning in a farm field.”


  • $\begingroup$ In BVR, the engine is irrelevant - he who sees first, shoots first. In a gun fight, jet engines do not offer a significant advantage over ICE and some people would even argue that they are not an advantage at all. How well do you think an F-22 would do at the Reno air races? Faster speeds just means slower turns which means more predictable targets. A good pilot will use whatever advantage they have, and an given that an F-22 has less than 5 seconds of gun, I would not give them strong odds. $\endgroup$
    – Paul Smith
    Oct 15, 2022 at 23:55

Mark's answer covers what would happen in a real world scenario.

However, assuming that they've somehow accidentally got into range of each other... the F-22 pilot wasn't paying attention etc. And also assuming somehow that they have the same weapons and avionics, then one of the following would probably happen

  1. Both aircraft have the weapons/avionics of the P-51

The F-22 climbs. It has a climb rate HUGELY in excess of the P-51. Once above the P-51, it can "Boom and Zoom" against the P-51 all day. Dive in behind, open fire, climb away again... without ever being in a tiny amount of danger. By the time the P-51 turns to point its guns at where the F-22 was, the F-22 has rocketed away (like literally, by comparison, rocketed). The F-22 simply repeats this until the P-51 is dead.

  1. Both aircraft have the weapons/avionics of the F-22

Assuming a head-on pass, the F-22 detects the P-51 long before the P-51 even knows an F-22 is nearby. The F-22 blows the P-51 out of the sky.

Assuming the F-22 misses and they pass each other, are at a comparable speed, and assuming that from now on either can get a lock on the other with equal chance, the F-22 simply uses its vastly superior maneuverability to turn in behind the P-51, fires another missile and casually leaves after again blowing the P-51 up.

The aircraft are in entirely different leagues.

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    $\begingroup$ the F-22 simply uses its vastly superior maneuverability. How more maneuverable is a F22 against a P51 mathematically? Isn't a lower turning radius any plus to the Mustang? $\endgroup$
    – erbdex
    Feb 8, 2015 at 22:59
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    $\begingroup$ The P-51 doesn't have a lower turning radius, or even close. The F-22 is astonishingly maneuverable due to it's thrust vectoring. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Story
    Feb 8, 2015 at 23:03
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    $\begingroup$ ^This isn't exactly true. There's much more to it than this. $\endgroup$
    – user3309
    Feb 9, 2015 at 0:00
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    $\begingroup$ @JonStory, the P-51 DOES have a smaller turn radius. $\endgroup$
    – user3309
    Feb 9, 2015 at 3:57
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    $\begingroup$ @keelerjr12 this answer is for an earlier edit of the question which specified the F-22 vs P-51. Other jets would struggle to perform a similar horizontal turn but their superior power would still probably allow them to perform a vertical turn more effectively $\endgroup$
    – Jon Story
    Feb 9, 2015 at 8:10

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