The F-35 Isn’t the World’s Worst Fighter (This Picture Might Show the 'Winner')

David Axe

The F-35 stealth fighter suffers a litany of design and production flaws. It’s heavy and expensive. It lacks maneuverability. Its internal weapons bay is too small. At high speeds, it can tear itself apart.

But for all its problems, the F-35 isn’t the world’s worst fighter. Not by a long shot. Exactly which of history’s hundreds of fighter designs qualifies as the worst is a matter of opinion. Experts have nominated a few standout failures.

Historian Robert Farley described the United Kingdom’s Royal B.E.2, which first flew in 1912, as “one of the first military aircraft put into serious industrial production.”

From Farley work several years back: 

In a sense, the B.E.2 inspired the first generation of fighters by displaying all of the qualities that no one wanted in a fighter aircraft, including poor visibility, poor reliability, difficulty of control, slow speed and weak armament.

The advent of the Fokker Eindecker made the B.E.2 positively hazardous to fly. Refinements often hurt more than they helped, with the plane becoming steadily more dangerous and accident prone as grew heavier.

It’s tough to give a failing grade to a first effort. But the B.E.2’s difficulty and poor reliability, combined with the British decision to keep it in service [through 1919], well beyond its freshness date, earn it a spot on this list.

Farley also highlighted the Soviet MiG-23, which first flew in 1967. “The MiG-23 was supposed to be the Soviet answer to the big American fighters such as the F-4 and F-111, a powerful swing-wing fighter that could also perform attack and interception roles,” Farley wrote. “And the Flogger surely was powerful.”

As Farley noted:

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