I've read a few times that such-and-such a plane is an "all-weather" aircraft, for example:

The McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet is a twin-engine, supersonic, all-weather, carrier-capable, multirole combat jet.

This is quite intriguing and a rather odd thing to specify.

A fighter that couldn't be operated in for example rain (perhaps because it might dissolve, rust or leak) wouldn't seem to be much of an asset to one's air force.

Similarly, I would not expect a supersonic fighter to be unable to deal with gusty winds, or a heatwave, or really, anything else the weather might be expected to throw at it.

What sort of jet would not be an "all-weather" aircraft?

  • $\begingroup$ Do weather conditions which cause icing account? If so „all weather“ is a little bit thin in meaning, jet fighters have no anti-icing for the flight surfaces. aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/58982/… $\endgroup$
    – Peter
    May 19, 2019 at 9:40

4 Answers 4


“All-weather” is a little bit of a hold-over from the WWII days where severe weather was much more of a threat to the aircraft. Between less reliable engines, delicate and finicky instruments like artificial horizons, and limited anti-ice technology, flying in adverse conditions was much harder then. Becoming completely disoriented in low visibility was almost a death sentence.

Special planes were made with the sole purpose of fighting at night, and certain designs were better than others for all-weather operation.

Nowadays, world class military aircraft are all pretty much all-weather because of the 70 years of avionics, propulsion and airframe improvement.


Up to WW2, aircraft operations were highly dependent on weather.

  • navigation used ground observations to correct for drift etc.
  • military aircraft needed optical observations to find their targets (on ground or in the air).

This limited aircraft use to daytime and put an upper limit to the amount of clouds that were acceptable. A target completely covered in low-level cloud meant you couldn't find it.

The same goes for the landing. You had to find the airfield visually. Descending blindly through clouds could end up with you crashing into the nearby hill.

Then in WW2, radar and radio navigation aids were used for the first time. This allowed some aircraft (the ones with proper equipment) to function day and night. The equipment was too large and expensive to be installed in every aircraft, so you got a bifurcation: a large amount of day fighters (without radar), and some night fighters (with radar). Similarly, bombers were flown in groups where only some of them had radio navigation (Pathfinders) and the rest followed the leader. Later on, the equipment got cheaper and smaller, and from the 1960s night fighters ceased to exist as a separate class: pretty much all new fighters were all-weather capable.

So an all-weather aircraft needs radar, accurate navigation, and an ILS.


All-weather fighter aircraft means it can operate in low-visibility such as night time.

For example F-16 was envisioned as a cheap day-fighter, but ended up being an all-weather fighter.

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_fighter


In the context of a fighter this can mean not only that the aircraft can operate safely in (almost) all weather conditions, but that it can be effective in combat in weather also. This means airborne intercept radar and homing missiles, vs older fighters that relied more on the pilot's vision and guns.


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