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Since the beginning of WWII there was been a trend towards larger fighter aircraft. In about 1960 the United States continued with larger fighters (F4, F100, F111, F15) but also started a branch of very small light weight fighters (F105, F16, Tucano, etc).

What is the lightest weight jet/turboprop fighter any nation has ever deployed in actual combat?

Epilogue: I learned more from this discussion than I expected. As I recall, at least one South American country used the BD5J but it never saw combat. That's why I included the combat stipulation. - Thanks for the answers...

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I would think the Folland Gnat F.1 is hard to beat in this context, with an empty weight of 4,800lbs (2,175 kg) and a loaded weight of 6,250 lb (2,835 kg).

It is credited with a number of victories over the Pakistan Air Force in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, principally against the F-86 Sabre.

E2016 Folland Gnat Indian Air Force

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Cessna OA-37B

The A-37 Dragonfly is the smallest production combat aircraft I'm aware of.

Empty weight of 6,211 lb (2,817 kg). Max takeoff weight of 14,000 lb (6,350 kg).

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I'm surprised that nobody so far mentioned the Heinkel He-162 A-2. This was powered by a single BMW 003 turbojet and had a maximum take-off mass of 2805 kg, a tad below that of the Folland Gnat. Its empty weight of 1660 kg (3660 lbs) places it clearly below all other contenders. Note that the A-1 variant used heavier armament (2 MK 108 30mm guns), which produced excessive vibrations, so the A-2 version used the lighter MG 151 (20 mm caliber).

And, yes, it was operational, even if only for a few weeks in 1945.

He-162 during post-war evaluation

He-162 during post-war evaluation (picture source)

Contrary to contemporary propaganda which claimed that it had been developed in only three months, Heinkel had been working on this configuration for almost a year when the proposal for a cheap, single-engine jet was issued on September 8, 1944. Basically, Heinkel only needed to scale down their design (which was based on a bigger Heinkel engine) and get the prototype into the air. The drooped wingtips were no winglets but served to reduce the dihedral effect and were added when early flight testing revealed dynamic instabilities.

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  • $\begingroup$ Superb. I might ask a separate question about it, but why isn't it a winglet? Even if unknown at the time. $\endgroup$ – ymb1 Jan 21 '18 at 5:07
  • $\begingroup$ @ymb1: Hehe, yes, good question. For the adherents of the winglet cult it is certainly one, but the intention to add it was not driven by performance, but handling, improvements. This makes it different from a winglet. $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf Jan 21 '18 at 8:08
  • $\begingroup$ Naturally I didn't want to be beaten, but fair play, this may be the winner. However - a note of caution. My initial research indicates the quoted empty weight comes from the unarmed prototype He-162 V1 (which was destroyed in an accident); obviously armament comes at a weight premium. See for instance world-war-2-planes.com/he-162.html (2180kg empty) and the more authoritative "He 162 Volksjager Units" book (see link below) which quotes a similar weight in its standard (ie combat) configuration. $\endgroup$ – Party Ark Jan 21 '18 at 17:50
  • $\begingroup$ Link for comment above - books.google.co.uk/… $\endgroup$ – Party Ark Jan 21 '18 at 17:51
  • $\begingroup$ A bit more - the above book quotes a take off weight for the A1 as 2495 kg. Interestingly in "World War II Fighting Jets" (1994) the author specifically discusses how the He-162 was considerably heavier in operation than the specification, saying the fighter when deployed had a take-off weight of 2805 kgs (6184lbs). What I would conclude is that coincidentally the empty and loaded weights of both the operational He-162 and the Gnat were almost identical. In fact this source ww2warbirds.net/ww2htmls/heinhe162.html gives the weights the same to the kg! $\endgroup$ – Party Ark Jan 21 '18 at 18:37
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The MiG-15 is a good contender having an empty weight of 8,113 lbs and a maximum takeoff weight of 14,458lbs. Similar too is the Messerschmitt 262 with an empty weight of 8,366lbs and a max takeoff weight of 14,272lbs.

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Supersonic aircraft are a bit heavier. Certainly the MiG-21 is a good contender with an empty weight 12,000 lbs of and a max TO weight of 21,600.

So, too the Lockheed F-104 at 14,000lbs empty and just shy of 30,000lbs at gross takeoff weight.

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Perhaps the smallest jet fighter ever conceived, but never put into production is the McDonnell XF-85 Goblin. Designed as a parasite fighter to be carried aloft by a B-36 bomber, it measures just 14ft in length, with a wingspan of 21ft and a gross takeoff weight of just lbs 5600 lbs!!

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F-5 also a contender. 8085 lbs empty weight, 11,477 lbs combat weight, 13,400 gross takeoff weight, although Max takeoff weight was near 20,000.

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