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F1 cars and Fighter Jets: 6 things that make these engines close relatives

For Formula 1 fans, the period between March and November holds a special place on the calendar. Beginning with the Australian Grand Prix in the spring and ending with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in the fall, is the time when fans have the chance to see their favorite Formula 1 cars in action.

These nine months are also when fans of another type of speed machine have a chance to see their favorite machines in action ... it is prime air show season. With 325 displays of high-tech aviation put on by groups such as the U.S. Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron, commonly referred to as the Blue Angels, taking place across the United States and Canada during those months each year - aviation fans are in their glory.

But while these cars and planes may seem to be completely separate pastimes, a Formula 1 racing car and a fighter jet have more in common than one might think.

How? Take a look at six attributes that connect both of those speed machines:

Engine power

One of the main things Formula 1 cars and fighter jets have in common is that their engines are designed to produce tremendous amounts of thrust, far more than their civilian counterparts. And not only do these engines need to be powerful, they need to be light, compact and reliable as well.

Although the specific design of a Formula 1 car’s engine is a closely guarded secret, these engines typically rev to about 18,000 rpms, about three times that of the family car, while pushing out an estimated 800 horsepower. Tops speeds are in the range of 185 mph.

Likewise, the engines of a military fighter jet are designed to far outperform those of a passenger plane. The F/A-18 Hornet, for example, counts on its twin engines to achieve top speeds of 1,190 mph, twice the typical 600-mph cruising speed of a passenger jet. The Hornet serves as the main aircraft of the Blue Angels.


Aerodynamics is a critical factor in the design of both Formula 1 cars and fighter jets. Both machines incorporate body designs modeled after a bird’s wing to minimize drag, with one key difference. While the wings of a fighter jet are designed to generate lift by creating a difference in air flow over the two sides of the wing, the wings and body of a Formula 1 car are designed to create a downward force that keeps the car on the ground. Without careful wing design a fighter jet would drop like a rock, while a Formula 1 car would go airborne at high speeds.

Carbon fiber body

Along with aerodynamics, designers of both fighter jets and Formula 1 cars are concerned with managing weight. Both machines minimize their weight by incorporating a body manufactured with lightweight carbon fiber that can be 10 times stronger than steel.

The shell or monocoque of a Formula 1 car is manufactured primarily of carbon fiber up to 60 layers thick in places, with dense panels covering a light honeycomb structure. Likewise, the wings of the F/A-18 Hornet incorporates carbon fiber skin over a lightweight frame. The material’s strength-to-weight ratio is unsurpassed, and carbon fiber panels can be spun over a mold, making it easy to manufacture specific shapes.


Because the complex systems of both Formula 1 cars and fighter jets call for multiple lightning-fast decisions on factors such as fuel flow and wing angle, both machines rely on computers to manage these decisions. In addition, electronic sensors in both machines measure crucial funcitions, like oil pressure and engine temperature, making adjustments as necessary. Not only do electronics manage these systems to ensure maximum performance, they also record this information and transmit it to the support team. This data enables the team to keep an eye out for problems and provide ideas on how to improve future operations.

G forces

Most of us are aware that a fighter jet can generate forces several times that of gravity, especially as these magnificent machines scream toward the heavens. The fighter pilot is experiencing a force of 4 gs or more, depending on the type of maneuver. In other words, a pilot weighing 150 pounds can temporarily feel as if he or she weighs 600 pounds or more. Excessive g-forces on a body can interrupt the flow of blood to the brain, causing a pilot to lose consciousness.

Like a fighter jet pilot, a Formula 1 driver can experience forces of 3.5 gs or even greater. The key difference is, that while the fighter jet pilot experiences g-forces vertically–from head to toe, the Formula 1 driver experiences those forces horizontally–from side-to-side–primarily when cornering.

Operator attitude

When talking about the similarities and differences between fighter jets and Formula 1 cars, a frequent debate involves how a fighter jet pilot would fare behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car, and vice versa. Although it hasn’t yet been put to a test, the basic requirements of the job are essentially the same. Drivers and pilots both need to have the ability to make split-second decisions while traveling at insane rates of speed, all while being subjected to tremendous physical stress.

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