Helicopter vs Fighter.. Who'd win?

The Army and Air Force once conducted an air-to-air combat experiment between jet fighters and attack helicopters. Called J-CATCH, or Joint Countering Attack Helicopter, it was not the first of its kind but the most conclusive using modern technology.

The results showed attack helicopters proved remarkably deadly when properly employed against fighter aircraft. And it wasn’t even close.

First conducted by the Army using MASH Sikorsky H-19s, airframes developed in the 40s and 50s, the modern J-CATCH test started in 1978, as the Soviet Union expanded their helicopter forces. Of special concern was the development of the Mil Mi-24 or Hind helicopter gunship. The four phase J-CATCH experiment started in earnest with the Army, Marines, and Air Force participating in simulations at NASA’s Langley labs. The second phase was a field test, pitting three AH-1 Cobras and two OH-58 Scouts against a Red Team force of UH-1 Twin Hueys and CH-3E Sea King helicopters and developed many new helicopter air-to-air tactics and maneuvers designed to counter the Russian Hind.

Phase Three is where the fighters came in. The Air Force chose F-4, A-7, A-10, and F-15 fighter aircraft to counter whatever the Army could muster in the exercise. The F-4 and F-15 were front line fighters with anti-air roles while the A-7 and A-10 had air-to-ground missions.

For two weeks, the helicopters trounced the fighter aircraft. The fighter pilots in the test runs sometimes didn’t even know they were under attack or destroyed until the exercise’s daily debriefing. The Army pilots were so good, they had to be ordered to follow Air Force procedures and tell their fixed-wing targets they were under attack over the radio. This only increased the kill ratio, which by the end of the exercise, had risen to 5-to-1 in favor of the helicopters.

The fourth phase of the exercise saw the final outcome of the test: fighters should avoid helicopters at all costs, unless they have superiority of distance or altitude.


Brrrrt would win hands down.


I would need more data on the kill count between each individual aircraft. As you pointed out the A10 and A7 are attack aircraft so their primary strength isn’t air to air. You assert that the F4 was a pinnacle air to air airframe but history and the pilots talk about major deficiencies in its ability to out maneuver and dogfight/ air to air. That leaves the F15 which is where I require the individual performance of each aircraft. I would assume that the technology of the time for the F15 would limit its ability to fire far off and force it to engage within range of the rotar wings offensive armaments. At close combat (dog fight) the advantage has always been the more maneuverable airframe (in this case rotar props because of the ability to turn and not move thus higher maneuverability) this puts the F15 at disadvantage. Longer range missiles have essentially negated this prospect from arising in modern data and the data is outdated I would still assert

Yes it is, it’s been a while but just passed by this story.

Than I wouldn’t give the results from it any grain of salt. Air to air engagements have dramatically shifted to out of sight rather than dogfight. As I said in a dogfight the higher maneuverability airframe usually wins so the advantage in dogfight will always be the helis. With far off engaging missiles this is no longer the case

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Yep that’s true, it’d be interesting see how they do this round if they ever conducted it again.

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