The F-16's maneuver envelope is better under 15K feet, but they go much higher. Why do they put in that compromise position?

  • $\begingroup$ The compromised position of being at a higher altitude? A SAM missile gets you at 15,000 feet a whole lot faster than it does at 40,000 feet... Also if dog-fighting, the higher you are the more options you have, 15,000 feet is pretty easy to lose track of when fighting for your life... $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Sep 13, 2019 at 12:13
  • $\begingroup$ What if your target is also there? $\endgroup$ Sep 13, 2019 at 15:05
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    $\begingroup$ Height is energy. See it as an accumulation of easily convertible energy. Also, the view is better up there. And endurance, too. $\endgroup$ Sep 13, 2019 at 17:24

1 Answer 1


For most aircraft, the advantage of flying high is that the air is thinner, so you go faster for the same fuel burn.

For fighters, height gives you the ability to dive to gain speed, giving them the option for intercept a lower plane, or run away faster than a lower plane can follow. If they're relying on their own radar, it also allows them to see further around the curve of the earth. As Ron mentions, it also puts you out of range of some SAMs, and gives you more time to react to others.

Lastly, while the F-16's manoeuvre envelope may be better at lower altitude, what matters is the manoeuvre envelope of the aircraft they might have to fight, and the altitude they choose to fight at. The relative difference between the two types is more important than any absolute value.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for the relative difference alone, but the rest also deserves an upvote. $\endgroup$ Sep 13, 2019 at 17:25
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    $\begingroup$ The other fighter's maneuver envelope is better down low as well. But you fight them where you find them, and you both suffer the same penalty up high, so it's a wash. $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Sep 14, 2019 at 16:48

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