Top 100 Warbirds

We proudly present Flying Magazine's Top 100 Warbirds, our list of the best, most influential, fastest, most powerful, most effective and most revered fighting airplanes of all time. As with any top list, there's sure to be some disagreement with the birds we've chosen to fill these 100 slots, and that will likely be more and more true as you move up the list toward the No. 1 warbird of all time. Along the way you may find some picks with which you disagree, but more importantly, you'll likely learn a lot about some great airplanes and their place in history and in the hearts of those who served. We hope you enjoy Flying Magazine's Top 100 Warbirds, and as always, we invite you to share your reaction with us.

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We proudly present Flying Magazine's Top 100 Warbirds, our list of the best, most influential, fastest, most powerful, most effective and most revered fighting airplanes of all time. As with any top list, there's sure to be some disagreement with the birds we've chosen to fill these 100 slots, and that will likely be more and more true as you move up the list toward the No. 1 warbird of all time. Along the way you may find some picks with which you disagree, but more importantly, you'll likely learn a lot about some great airplanes and their place in history and in the hearts of those who served. We hope you enjoy Flying Magazine's Top 100 Warbirds, and as always, we invite you to share your reaction with us. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter. _
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100 Northrop P-61 Black Widow
Sleek Night Fighter Twin Employed in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II, Northrop's P-61 Black Widow was put into service in 1944 and retired about a decade later. Equipped with two Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp radial engines spinning four-bladed propellers, the airplane had twin-booms and a center fuselage — a boxier version of the P-38 design. The multi-purpose fighter could be armed with cannons, machine guns, bombs or rockets and was the first dedicated American night-fighter. A P-61 named "Lady in the Dark" has been credited with the final Allied air victory before VJ Day. After the war, the P-61 was employed for thunderstorm research. Of about 700 produced, only four Black Widows still exist. Three are on display at museums and will likely never fly while a fourth version has been under restoration for decades by a team in Reading, Pennsylvania, that hopes to one day return this beauty to the skies. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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99 Sopwith 1-½ Strutter
English Gunnery Platform Sopwith's World War I two-seater got its nickname from the two sets of struts that supported the top wing — one long, full-size pair and a second pair of shorter struts. Designed early in the Great War, the 1 ½ Strutter was the first British pursuit ship (fighter) to use the front-engine configuration. Not coincidentally, it was also the first British combat aircraft with an interrupter-gear, linking its forward firing machine gun to the engine camshaft so it would not fire when the propeller blade was in the way. Like most WWI models, the 1 ½ Strutter had a short-lived superiority and was quickly surpassed by the faster, more powerful Albatros series. Still, with its long range the 1 ½ Strutter was useful as an escort for long-range bombing missions. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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98 Polikarpov I-16
Snub-Nosed Soviet Fighter Somewhat resembling the GeeBee racers of the era, Polikarpov's snub-nose I-16 was different in two distinctive ways when it emerged in the mid 1930s. It had a cantilever wing (internally supported, so it required no struts) and it had retractable landing gear. The fighter was designed around Pratt & Whitney's R-1820 radial engine, but the type wound up using less powerful Russian radials. The I-16 saw combat in the Spanish Civil War, where it went head to head with Germany's top fighter, the Messerschmitt 109. Later, I-16s saw service for China during the Sino-Japanese war. When Germany's "Operation Barbarossa" turned the fury of the Luftwaffe on Russia in June 1941, most I-16s were destroyed on the ground before they could take off to intercept. Unlike Britain, Russia did not have radar to warn of incoming raids. Russian I-16 pilots would take advantage of the I-16's superior maneuvering capability to battle the Me-109s, often resorting to ramming their enemies in suicide attacks. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.Álvaro via Wikipedia Creative Commons
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97 Kawasaki Hien
Japanese "Messerschmitt" The Kawasaki Ki-61 Hein was an all-purpose fighter of the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force that used a license-built version of the liquid-cooled Daimler-Benz DB 601 engine. At first it was mistaken by the Allies to be a Japanese license-built version Messerschmitt Bf 109. But the Hein was a home-grown fighter from the start, and it outclassed the Allied P-40s it faced in the early days of the war. In fact, in 1941 it was one of the fastest fighters in the world with a top speed of 370 mph. A reengined version of the Hein known as the Ki-100 with a Mitsubishi radial also proved an extremely formidable interceptor fighter against B-29 Super Fortresses, climbing in large strength to well above 30,000 feet to meet them when it was introduced in the spring of 1945. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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96 Panavia Tornado
Multi-Role Euro Combat Plane Developed in the mid-1970s, the Panavia Tornado was the product of an engineering partnership among Great Britain, Italy and West Germany. The twin-engine multirole fighter uses a variable-geometry wing that allows it to excel in low-level enemy penetration missions. The Tornado featured the then-new concept of fly-by-wire control, which made it an easy airplane to fly fast and low. The Tornado can also land in incredibly tight spaces thanks to its ability to sweep its wing far forward while deploying full-span flaps and leading-edge slats. Nearly 1,000 Tornadoes have been built, and the airplane remains in service with the British, German and Italian air forces. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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95 Bristol Beaufighter
WWII Twin Fighter The Bristol Beaufighter was a British twin-engine long-range heavy fighter that played a decisive defensive role during the German Blitz in 1940. Equipped with an early airborne intercept radar, the Beaufighter was modified early on to serve as a nighttime interceptor, accounting for half of all Luftwaffe bombers shot down in the early days of World War II. Though lacking the speed and maneuverability of the World War II era fighters that followed, the Beaufighter had something airplanes like the Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane lacked: the endurance to remain aloft and continue to fight for long periods. The rugged Beaufighter also saw service in North Africa, serving as a daytime bomber escort and ground-attack platform. It also served in the Pacific Theater, most notably in India attacking Japanese lines of communications in Burma and Thailand and in the southwest Pacific on anti-shipping missions. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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94 Lockheed Martin F-35
All Things Fighter The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter is the latest manned fighter aircraft to be developed in the United States. Now in the final development phase of the program, Lockheed Martin has designed three versions of the F-35, a conventional version (A) for the Air Force, a short takeoff/vertical landing version (B) for the Marine Corps and a carrier variant (C) for the Navy. Powered by a Pratt & Whitney F135 engine capable of producing 50,000 pounds of thrust, the F-35 can reach speeds of Mach 1.6. The thrust vectoring system was developed by Rolls-Royce. In addition to its supersonic and STOVL capabilities, the F-35 has radar-evading stealth capabilities, a precision targeting system, and a system that detects aircraft and missiles and provides enhanced day and night vision within a sphere around the airplane. In addition to a sophisticated touch-screen avionics suite, pilots will utilize a helmet mounted display system rather than a HUD. The F-35 has been designed to carry as much as 18,000 pounds of weapons both internally and externally. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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93 Mitsubishi Betty Bomber
Versatile Japanese Bomber Introduced to the Japanese arsenal in 1941, the Mitsubishi G4M, codenamed "Betty" by the Allies, possessed above average speed and range, making it a potent weapon as a land based naval bomber. The G4M carried a combination of cannon and machine guns that made it a dangerous adversary, especially in the early days of World War II. But like many Japanese airplanes, the cockpit and fuel tanks weren't well protected, providing a weakness that Allied fighter pilots soon learned to exploit. As newer and better American fighters entered the Pacific Theater, the advantage the Betty Bomber held quickly disappeared. All told, the Japanese built around 2,500. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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92 Grumman A-6 Intruder
Vietnam-Era Naval Attack Plane The A-6 Intruder was developed to meet a need to be able to attack ground and sea targets in any weather, day or night. The aircraft served as the U.S. Navy's and Marine Corps' principle all-weather/night attack aircraft from the mid-1960s through the 1990s, during which it performed grunt work on low-level attack missions. These roles also made it more vulnerable than many other airplanes of the day. In Vietnam the Intruder was invaluable for its ability to fly low and in all weather to attack targets, but it also took more than its share of enemy fire. As a result, a total of 84 intruders were lost during the war. The A-6 earned a level of fame with the general public after the publication of the 1986 novel "Flight of the Intruder," written by A-6 pilot and best-selling author Stephen Coonts. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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91 Grumman TBM Avenger
American Torpedo Bomber It was designed at Leroy Grumman's "Iron Works" on Long Island, New York, but the TBF "Avenger" was quickly farmed out to General Motors for production as the TBM – the designation under which it is best known. It was designed as a torpedo bomber, though it could also drop high-explosive bombs, fire wing-mounted rockets and also strafe ground targets. The Avenger was noteworthy in that it carried its torpedo internally, unlike almost all of its predecessors, where the torpedo hung below the belly, greatly increasing aerodynamic drag and limiting speed and range. Entering service in 1942, the TBM saw its first combat during the decisive Battle of Midway. Perhaps the most famous TBM pilot is former President George H.W. Bush, who as a 19-year-old naval aviator bailed out of his crippled aircraft near the island of Chichi-jima, later to be rescued by a submarine. Actor Paul Newman served as a rear gunner on a TBM. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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90 Nakajima B5N
Pearl Harbor Attacker The Japanese Nakajima B5N first flew in 1937 and made its combat debut a year later. In 1941, the carrier-capable torpedo-bomber became world famous when it participated in the successful surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. More than 140 B5Ns participated in the Pearl Harbor attack, accounting for more than 10 percent of the total production, which reached about 1,150. The long glass-covered cockpit held three crewmembers and the airplane was armed with one machine gun and either a large torpedo or bomb. Powered by a Nakajima radial engine and equipped with hydraulically actuated retractable landing gear, the B5N variants reached top speeds of 235 mph. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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89 Lockheed C-130 Hercules
Gunship on a Mission The idea of a transport used as a gunship dates back at least to the AC-47 variant of the famed Gooney Bird. Lockheed's follow-on AC-130 took it to the next octave. The tactic involves orbiting with the left side of the ship facing the target. All the firepower is concentrated on that side, and circling allows the gunship to keep firing continuously until it's out of ammo. In the H-Model "Spectre," that ammo feeds a pair of 20-mm M61 Vulcan cannons; one Bofors 40-mm autocannon; and a 105-mm M102 cannon. The U-model "Spooky" added a 25-mm GAU-12 Equalizer to replace the 20-mm cannons; and the W-model "Stinger II" has one 30-mm Bushmaster Cannon and can launch an AGM-176 Griffin missile. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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88 Eurofighter Typhoon
Next-Gen Euro Fighter Introduced in 2003, the Eurofighter Typhoon is a multirole fighter developed in partnership by BAE Systems, Airbus and Alenia Aermacchi. Designed for extreme maneuverability as one of NATO's premier dogfighters, the Typhoon is highly agile at both low and supersonic speeds, thanks to its quadraplex fly-by-wire flight control system. This allows for relaxed stability that would be impossible for a human pilot to control without computer assistance. The Typhoon also boasts some of the most advanced technology ever in a fighter, allowing it to continuously monitor and respond to air and surface threats without any pilot input. More than 400 Typhoons have been built so far out of a production run that will number at least 571. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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87 Macchi C.202 Folgore
Italian Lightning Joining the fight in 1941, the Italian Macchi C.202 is one of the most beautiful fighters of WWII (or of any other conflict, for that matter). Although it was not that fast at just over 300 knots, at the time it entered service it gave Spitfires and P-40s fits, thanks to its excellent maneuverability. The C.202 fought on several fronts in Italy against Allied insurgents, including in the invasion of Sicily, North Africa, Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Due to insufficient firepower and maintenance problems, the Folgore had a hard time remaining a threat as it was increasingly outnumbered by Allied fighters leading up to the end of the war in Europe. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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86 Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey
Fast and Slow Transport A helicopter and an airplane rolled into one — it's the stuff of aviation dreams, and for many years it was just that. But that dream became a reality in 1989 when the V-22 prototype made its maiden flight, first in helicopter mode and then months later as a turboprop. The tiltrotor merged the vertical takeoff and landing capabilities of a helicopter with the speed and range of an airplane, making for one formidable, versatile machine. Equipped with a 38-foot rotor system that can rotate 90 degrees in flight, the Osprey's unique design produces some enviable stats, including the ability to carry 20,000 pounds of internal cargo or 15,000 pounds of external weight. While critics have questioned the aircraft's safety record, the V-22 has proven itself in an endless number of different roles that include everything from combat support to cargo transport to search and rescue. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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85 Lockheed Martin F-22
World's Most Advanced Fighter With an unbeatable combination of stealth, speed and maneuverability, the F-22 is the most formidable aviation opponent on the planet. Thanks to a stealth signature the size of a marble and the unique ability to cruise faster than 1.5 Mach without relying on afterburners, the F-22 can easily take on any existing challenger, as it showed when it achieved a 108-to-zero kill ratio against venerable F-15s, F-16s and F-18s during testing. Complementing its incredible agility, the Raptor's integrated avionics and warfare systems provide situational awareness in combat that is second to none, both in air-to-air and air-to-ground roles. While plagued by recurring oxygen problems and high costs, the F-22 remains an unabashedly spectacular aircraft that has the technology to do what no other aircraft in the world can. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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84 Vought Corsair II
Carrier-Based Weapons Platform Developed from the Vought F-8 Crusader, the Corsair II forfeited the speed of its predecessor for a lighter airframe, one that would both enable the airplane to carry a heavier load and perform naval carrier operations. While not the sleekest-looking warbird ever produced, the single-pilot Corsair II served as a highly economic and accurate ground attack aircraft that could take care of threats below while still protecting itself from combatants in the air. The strike carrier fighter could carry up to 15,000 pounds of an extremely wide range of weapons and was robust enough to withstand a beating during combat. Those traits served the airplane well in conflicts ranging from the war in Vietnam to Desert Storm in Iraq before the Corsair's retirement in the '90s and replacement by the F/A-18. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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83 General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark
Supersonic Multi-Role Fighter The General Dynamics F-111 was far ahead of its time when introduced in the 1960s. The Aardvark pioneered variable-sweep wings, afterburners and terrain-following radar, allowing it to fill many roles from medium-range strategic bomber to tactical fighter. The capabilities provided a top speed of Mach 2.5 and a combat radius of more than 1,100 nautical miles. The F-111 was also unique for its side-by-side seating arrangement. Despite being one of the most technologically advanced fighters of the day, the F-111 suffered from cost overruns and design problems that cost more than $100 million to fix. But when the Aardvark made its combat debut in Vietnam, it proved a worthy adversary, flying more than 4,000 missions with only six losses, giving it the best record of any major fighter of the conflict. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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82 Boeing AH-64 Apache
Mean Machine Prevented by the 1948 Key West Agreement from operating fixed-wing combat aircraft, the U.S. Army turned its attention instead to attack helicopters. From its experiences in Vietnam, the Army wanted an improvement over the AH-1 Cobra in terms of armament, maneuverability and range. The AH-64 Apache delivered in all these areas and then some, with its advanced FLIR and target sighting capabilities allowing it to operate at night farther forward on the battlefield than previous attack helicopters. The Apache is also notable for being able to take heavy damage and keep flying, with exceptionally strong rotor blades and armored compartments designed to protect the pilot and copilot/gunner. Since the Apache was introduced to service in 1984, more than 1,100 have been built. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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81 Republic F-105 Thunderchief
Supersonic Thud The "Thud" was designed with one purpose in mind — a single pilot flying low level at Mach 1 for delivering a nuclear weapon. In 1955, that mission was a game changer, but within a few years, the mission had changed considerably. During the Vietnam War, the F-105 made a name for itself in the Wild Weasel operations — as a two-seater identifying and suppressing anti-aircraft installations on the ground. It could carry a heavier bomb load than any of the heavy, four-engine bombers from World War II, yet it could still exceed twice the speed of sound at altitude. The manufacturer built 833 F-105s, and Thuds flew more than 20,000 combat missions in Vietnam. F-105s flown by U.S. Air Force pilots were credited with 27.5 enemy aircraft destroyed during the Vietnam years. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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80 English Electric Lightning
Mach 2 British Fighter Only 337 English Electric Lightnings were ever built, but the Mach 2 Cold War jet fighter held several important distinctions in its short production run. Designed to counter ever-faster bombers from the Cold War era, the fighter's most noticeable feature was the "over-under" engine configuration. Two Rolls-Royce Avon turbojets were stacked in the aft fuselage, with airflow fed from the single nose inlet. The idea was to minimize inlet drag while enjoying the benefits of twin-engine power and redundancy. However, the lack of any succeeding aircraft using over-and-under engine mounting suggests the experiment was less than compellingly successful. Another distinctive feature of the Lightning was its notched delta wing and low-mounted tailplane, both also contributing to efficiency and the resulting operational flexibility. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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79 Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II
Attack Dog Although officially named the Thunderbolt II, everybody knows the A-10 as the Warthog. The name is a nod to the famed tank buster's peculiar look, with its high-aspect-ratio straight wing and big GE TF34 turbofan engines mounted ahead of the tailplane. The wing design and the A-10's large ailerons give it exceptional low-altitude maneuverability, making it perfect for its primary role as a close air support and ground attack aircraft. The A-10 is exceptionally rugged as well, being able to take direct hits from armor piercing weapons. In fact, the Warthog is designed to keep flying with one engine, one tail, one elevator and half of one wing missing. These incredible attributes have created a loyal following, who are fighting to save the A-10 from retirement. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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78 MiG-29
Next-Gen Russian Fighter In the wake of the emergence of America's new F-15 and F-16 fighters during the Cold War, the Soviet Union sought out an aircraft that could level the playing field. By the early '80s, that airplane — the MiG-29 — entered production, bringing a slew of new capabilities into the hands of Soviet forces, such as the ability to detect aircraft flying below them and a one-of-a-kind pilot helmet that allowed MiG-29 fliers to lock onto another aircraft just by turning their heads. The highly maneuverable MiG-29 may not have surpassed the West's fighters, but it did give them a run for their money and proved such a vital asset that the airplane is still produced to this day, nearly 40 years after its first flight. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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77 Douglas AD-1 Skyraider
Last of the Piston Attack Planes There were a few holdouts to the advent of jets after WWII, notably the straight winged Douglas AD-1 Skyraider (more than 3,000 were built). Introduced shortly after the end of WWII, serving throughout Korea and during the Vietnam War too, the AD-1 was an attack aircraft capable of carrying more than its weight in weapons, loitering long over enemy positions and taking a lot of fire and still staying aloft. The Skyraider flew for several branches of the United States military and for many foreign air forces, at least up until 1986. Powered by a big 2,700 hp Wright R-3350 radial (other engine variants were used), the Skyraider wasn't fast but it was effective, providing a cost-effective platform for ground support and atttack. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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76 Dassault Mirage F1
Maneuverable French Fighter Jet French fighter builder Dassault developed the Mirage F1 using its own money as a private venture. Intended as a successor to the Mirage III and Mirage 5 fighters of the 1960s, the high-wing Mirage F1 proved more maneuverable than its predecessors while having better range and shorter takeoff and landing capability. One of the most successful fighter designs of the Cold War era, the Mirage F1 satisfied the French Air Force's requirement for an all-weather multirole combat aircraft when it entered service in 1973. It is still in use by the air forces of several countries, although France officially retired the Mirage F1 in June of this year. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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75 Douglas A-4 Skyhawk
Delta Wing Carrier Fighter For a single-engine fighter jet, the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk has enjoyed a very long operational run since its combat introduction in the 1960s. While retired from its service in the United States Navy and Marine Corps, the light fighter-bomber is still used by U.S. fighter pilot training facilities and is employed in some international squadrons. Its delta wing combined with a powerful Wright or Pratt & Whitney turbojet provided great speed, and the design allowed for a variety of armament attachments. Widely deployed in the Vietnam War, the Yom Kippur War and the Falklands War, just to name a few, the carrier-capable A-4 was also the platform of choice for the Navy's Blue Angels flight demonstration team from 1974 through 1986. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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74 Kawasaki Ki-100
Late War Japanese Fighter Developed in response to the United States Navy's new carrier based fighter, the Grumman Hellcat, the Ki-100 was one of Japan's best fighters during the war, though it wound up seeing limited service. Developed for the army to combat increasing attacks from Allied fighters, the Ki-100 featured a 1,500 hp Mitsubishi radial engine, which greatly improved the reliability of the aircraft over the liquid-cooled inverted V-12s of other Japanese fighters. With heavier and more frequent bombing attacks on Japan in 1945, it became increasingly difficult to produce warplanes. Only around 350 Ki-100s were built before Japan surrendered. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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73 Grumman F-14 Tomcat
Swing-Wing Fighter Honed from America's experience fighting against MiGs over Vietnam, the F-14 was a supersonic two-seat strike fighter with variable-sweep wing that made it the preferred air superiority and fleet air defense platform for more than three decades from the early 1970s until 2006, when it was finally retired. A replacement for the ill-fated F-111, the F-14 was configured with wings that could automatically sweep in flight from 20 degrees to 68 degrees, providing the optimum lift-to-drag ratio as the Mach number changed. The U.S. Navy began replacing the F-4 Phantom with the F-14 in 1974. Today the world's sole operator of the F-14 is the Imperial Iranian Air Force, which acquired 79 when Iran was an American ally, and still maintains 19 of them in flying condition. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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72 Lavochkin La.7
Front-Line Soviet Fighter Built in great numbers toward the end of World War II, the Lavochkin La.7 was the culmination of a line of Lavochkin fighters that evolved over the course of the war in response to the superiority of German fighter planes, most notably the Me 109 and Focke Wulf 190, which gave previous Soviet fighters fits. The La.7 had greater power thanks to a more powerful 14-cylinder double-row radial with improved turbocharging for better high-altitude performance. It was very fast, better than 350 knots at 20,000 feet. Unlike its predecessors, the La.7 could outclimb and outmuscle the Me-109 and was a near match in speed for the Fw-190. By 1945, the La.7 helped the Soviets claim air superiority over the Luftwaffe and helped Soviet ground forces make the march toward Berlin and eventual victory over the Nazis. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.Alan Wilson via Creative Commons
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71 General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon
Supersonic Multi-Role Single The Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon is a study in air superiority superlatives. The first fighter ever to be designed with relaxed stability fly-by-wire flight controls, the single-engine fighter could do things no other fighter of its era could hope to match, and it could do them for less money. The era of the F-16 is still going strong as the multirole fighter remains in production more than 40 years after its first flight as a product of General Dynamics. Originally designed as a low-cost combat workhorse, the F-16 dazzled military brass and pilots alike with its exceptional maneuverability and top speed above Mach 2. It was the first fighter to pull 9 Gs, which along with a thrust-to-weight ratio greater than 1 and exceptional visibility from the cockpit make it a fierce competitor in a dogfight. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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70 Boeing B-47 Stratojet
Innovative Nuclear Bomber Built off of research obtained from the Germans during the close of World War II, the Boeing B-47 was an American marvel — the first of its kind to combine a swept wing with multiple jet engines. As with many revolutionary machines, it had its quirks, including a weight so heavy that it at times required the help of rockets to assist with takeoff. But with the ability to carry more weaponry than 10 B-17s, as well as a speed that maxed out at 607 mph, the B-47 constituted a gigantic leap in aviation technology and gave the U.S. an edge in the early years of the cold war. The warbird would go on to serve a number of different roles, including reconnaissance, training and missile carrying, and was produced in numbers greater than 2,000. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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69 Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk
Stealth Fighter The possibility of making a large aircraft stealth-capable was first explored by Russian mathematician Pyotr Ufimtsev in the early 1960s. Lockheed's Skunk Works picked up the idea in the mid-1970s, and the concept for the F-117 Stealth Fighter was born. While the project was kept secret for more than a decade, the stealth demonstrator first flew in 1977. The boxy, angular design of the F-117 looks far from aerodynamic, but it deflects radar signals making the radar signature minimal. The Stealth Fighter's internal bay is capable of carrying up to 5,000 pounds of bombs, which can be guided by GPS/INS or a laser that is linked to a thermal imaging infrared targeting system. The F-117 was widely deployed in the Persian Gulf War and has been used in several war efforts until its retirement in 2008. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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68 Vought F-8 Crusader
Carrier-Based Attack Plane The supersonic Vought F-8 Crusader ruled the skies over Vietnam, but its first operational missions came years earlier when a camera-equipped version flew daring low-level photo reconnaissance missions over Cuba in October 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. With its high wing and short landing gear, the F-8 was a difficult airplane to land on the deck of a carrier, earning the nickname "the Ensign Killer" early in its service life. At the outset of hostilities in Vietnam, the F-8 was the most formidable dogfighter in the U.S. arsenal as it went head to head with Soviet MiG 17s. Late in its service life the F-8 found a new role, serving with NASA to test the then-new concept of digital fly-by-wire. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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67 Grumman F9F Panther
Carrier Pioneer As much as any fighter, the Grumman F9F Panther illustrated the vast improvement that jet engines gave fighters as they provided new models with the kind of speed, climb and altitude capabilities that quickly made the carrier stars of WWII, including the Chance Vought F4U Corsair and Grumman Hellcat, obsolete. The Panther was the most used Navy fighter of the Korean War, and it was the first successful carrier based jet fighter for the U.S. Navy. A straight wing model, it was succeeded by a swept wing variant, the Cougar, but not before Grumman had built more than 1,300 of them. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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66 Grumman F8F Bearcat
Round-Engine Speed Demon The F8F Bearcat was the last in the series of Grumman piston-engine carrier planes that included such venerable warbirds as the F4F Wildcat, F6F Hellcat and the twin-engine F7F Tigercat. Often described as "an engine with a saddle," the Bearcat's coupling of a large 18-cylinder, 2,100 hp Pratt & Whitney Wasp engine — the same used on the F6F and F7F — with a very, very small airframe produced a powerhouse that could outspeed, outclimb and outmaneuver its predecessors. First flown in August 1944, the Bearcat arrived too late to participate in World War II but did go on to play an important role in Indochina. Today the warbird's performance specs are so enviable that a number of civilians have employed the Bearcat as a highly competitive air racer. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.Clemens Vasters via Wikipedia Creative Commons
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65 MiG-15
Swept-Wing Soviet Jet The Soviet MiG 15 was a star of the Korean War alongside the North American F-86 Sabre. Both trace their design roots to the Focke-Wulf Ta-183, a German jet fighter under development at the end of World War II. But the MiG 15 might never have progressed so far so quickly if not for an audacious Soviet plan to steal the design for the most advanced Rolls-Royce turbojet engine of the day. The Soviets, along with the Americans, had already confiscated German research into swept-wing fighters, which both countries now realized offered decisive advantages over straight-wing fighters, making these new-generation aircraft the most formidable of the early 1950s. The MiG 15 is also noteworthy for being produced in huge numbers, as more than 18,000 were built in the Soviet Union and elsewhere under license. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.D. Miller via Wikipedia Creative Commons
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64 Convair B36 Peacemaker
Transitional Bomber With fighters, the transition from the piston powered icons of WWII to the sleek jets of Korea seemed to happen overnight. With bombers and transports, it took longer. The hybrid link between old and new propulsion was the Convair B36 Peacemaker, which first appeared with all piston engines, 3,800 hp four-row Pratt & Whitney R-4360-53 Wasp Major radial engines. The B36 is the largest piston aircraft to take off from land. The piston engines were later complemented by four GE J47 turbojet engines, for a total of 10 engines. The B36 was for a time the top-secret platform for nuclear powered engines, though the reactor-powered B36 never flew. Despite its strange evolution, the B36 was for many years the chief deterrent to the Soviet nuclear threat. With a fully loaded range of nearly 10,000 miles, it was the first bomber capable of non-stop intercontinental flight. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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63 Grumman F4F Wildcat
Early WWII Carrier Fighter The Wildcat was Grumman's first monoplane fighter, and its configuration borrows heavily from its direct predecessor, the FF biplane. Grumman chose a mid-wing configuration, which allowed the Wildcat to use the same gear retraction system as the FF — an ingenious, if awkward looking, system that stowed the wheels flush with the lower fuselage. The narrow track of the landing gear made the Wildcat a little tough to handle on the runway, but that was a liability that didn't matter on a carrier deck, where tailhook landings eliminated much of the guesswork. The wing-folding mechanism on the Wildcat is a study in simplicity. Wildcat wings could be stowed by hand by the ground crew, and the folding wings made on-deck storage a much simpler task. Though inferior to the Japanese Zeros it faced in combat in the Pacific, the Wildcat acquitted itself well in the early days of the war. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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62 MiG-17
Soviet Interceptor Made famous during Vietnam, the MiG-17's combination of tight turning radius and optical gunsight made it one of the deadliest combat aircraft of its day, even though its primary role was as a bomber interceptor. Developed from the highly capable MiG-15 in the early 1950s, the larger MiG 17 was a high subsonic jet that could be flown above Mach 1 in later variants. The MiG-17F featured the afterburning VK-1F engine, which doubled its rate of climb and allowed skilled pilots to reach Mach 1.06. Toward the end of the Vietnam War the MiG-17 was modified to serve as a fighter-bomber. The Soviets built nearly 8,000 MiG-17s, with another 3,000 produced in other countries . Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.TXZeiss via Wikipedia Creative Commons
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61 Vickers Wellington
Wooden British WWII Bomber Named for British Prime Minister Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington, the Vickers Wellington holds the distinction of being the only British bomber produced throughout World War II. Originally conceived in 1932 as a long-range medium bomber, the Wellington entered service in 1938 and quickly established itself as an airplane that could take severe punishment. Part of the reason had to do with the engineering that went into the Wellington, which was made from a geodesic wooden space frame that was both sturdy and light. The complicated structure was harder to produce than other airplanes, though the fastest crews could build an entire airplane in 24 hours, helping to explain why more than 11,000 were built before production ended in 1945. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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60 Messerschmitt Me 163
Rocket Plane! During the closing years of the war, the Luftwaffe was increasingly desperate and turned to some unprecedented designs, the most spectacular of which was the Me 163 "Komet." The 163 was the first rocket powered fighter plane in aviation history. Due to an endurance of just seven minutes, only when an Allied bomber formation was within range would the Komet take off from a runway on a jettisonable dolly. It could then easily outrun Allied interceptors and take aim on the bombers, if it still had fuel left for the attack. After it ran out of fuel, the 163 was a fine glider, but it was easily picked off by Allied fighters that would lie in wait for the defenseless rocket planes. Despite having a negligible effect on the Allied air assault on Germany, the Komet was the fastest airplane to ever fly until the Bell X-1 broke its record several years later, though the 163 did it while taking off under its own power, which the X-1 did not. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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59 Hawker Sea Fury
Korean-Era Fighter Bomber Designed and manufactured by the British company Hawker in the 1940s, it should come as no surprise that an airplane named the Sea Fury was designed for the Navy. While the conclusion of its development came too late for World War II, the naval fighter-bomber saw action in the Korean War and was exported to several foreign militaries. It was a fierce contender with four 20 mm cannons and attachments for external armament such as bombs, mines and rockets. The Sea Fury design incorporated many features from Hawker's Tempest, including modified versions of its semi-elliptical wing and fuselage. Powered by a Bristol Centaurus engine, the Sea Fury was one of the fastest piston-powered airplanes ever made. Several versions were built, but the FB.Mk 11 was the most prolific with a production run of several hundred. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.Dave Miller via Creative Commons
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58 Nakajima KI-43
Army Zero The "Hayabusa" ("Peregrine Falcon") was known among American pilots as the "Army Zero" for its resemblance to the Navy's Mitsubishi A6M. Built by Nakajima, the Hayabusa shared many similarities with its Mitsubishi stablemate. Both were nimble, long-range, easy-to-fly fighters — superior in performance and handling to all comers at the start of the war. However, both also shared the same liabilities. They lacked armor and self-sealing fuel tanks, making them vulnerable when Allied fighters found them in their sights, even for a short burst. Nakajima produced just fewer than 6,000 Hayabusas, and they shot down more enemy aircraft than any other Army fighter from Japan. In the war's closing months, Hayabusas were widely used as kamikaze platforms for attacking Allied shipping. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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57 Gloster Meteor
Allies' First Jet The introduction of the twin-engine Gloster Meteor launched the Allied forces into the jet age in the late summer of 1944. Built to combat the V-1 flying bombs utilized by the Germans, Meteor pilots were initially ordered not to pass into enemy territory out of fear that one of the airplanes could be captured and its technology found out. Partly due to those directives, the Meteor never went up against the war’s other jet, the Messerschmitt Me 262, in battle. Nevertheless, the RAF’s jet proved a huge win for the Allies in technological advancement and capability. After the end of the war, a later version of the Meteor went on to claim the world air speed record when it reached 606 mph. The Meteor would go on to fight for several different countries in multiple conflicts including the Korean War and the Suez Crisis of 1956. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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56 Hawker Typhoon
Speedy WWII Ground Attacker Hawker chief designer Sydney Camm envisioned the Typhoon as a logical replacement for the Hurricane as a high-altitude interceptor. With its 2,000 hp engine and 12 wing-mounted machine guns, the "Tiffy" was a logical follow-on for the tube-and-fabric Hurricane that had served so effectively during the Battle of Britain. But by the time the Typhoon was ready for service, there was no further need for an interceptor. Ground attack was the primary mission, and squadrons of Typhoons were trained with that objective in mind. As early as September 1942, the first squadron of "Bombphoons" was in action against the German Army. With its powerful engine, the newest Hawker was able to carry an appreciable bomb load, and ultimately was adapted to glide-bombing, strafing and rocket attacks. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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55 Northrop Grumman Global Hawk
Changing the Face of War The RQ-4 Global Hawk is a high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial system developed by Northrop Grumman. It was the first UAS to achieve military airworthiness certification and a certificate of authorization to operate in the national airspace system. Conceived in 1995 for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, the UAS was still in its development phase when first deployed in November 2001 following the September 11 terrorist attacks. Its operation requires three crewmembers, and versions of the RQ-4 are currently used by the U.S. Air Force and Navy. The Global Hawk has been produced in four versions, Block 10, 20, 30 and 40, with the capability of carrying as much as 3,000 pounds of payload. Powered by an Allison Rolls-Royce AE3007H turbofan engine, the Global Hawk's maximum endurance exceeds 32 hours. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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54 Douglas A-20 Havoc
WWII Light Bomber Douglas Aircraft built just under 7,500 A-20s, and the type was one of the most diversely used of the war. It served in the air forces of the United States and several other countries, executing combat roles that included medium bomber, ground attack and night fighter. In British Royal Air Force service it was known by the designation “Boston” and participated in some of the first aerial forays into occupied Europe after the evacuation from Dunkirk on the French coast. Boston Mark Is and Mark IIs had limited range as pure bombers, but were later reassigned to intruder missions. Just fewer than 200 Bostons were converted and reportedly served effectively in the intruder role. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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53 Saab 35 Draken
Supersonic Double-Delta Fighter A supersonic fighter produced by the Swedish company Saab, the Saab 35 Draken was produced from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s. The jet was originally designed for air defense, equipped with radar and camera equipment. But Draken’s excellent turning capability and ability to carry cannons as well as air-to-air missiles and rockets also earned it a spot as a successful fighter. Several Saab 35 versions were made, the fastest of which achieved a top speed of Mach 2.0. Of the approximately 650 Drakens produced, many were delivered to the Swedish air force, but the airplane was also exported to Denmark, Finland and Austria. A few flying Drakens exist today in the United States and many are on display in museums around the world. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.Tony Osborne
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52 Douglas SBD Dauntless
Silent But Deadly Dive Bomber Its name means "without fear" and could not be more apt. The more mundane SBD initials stand for "Scout Bomber, Douglas," and its history dates back to the Northrop BT-1 in 1937. When Douglas took over Northrop, legendary designer Ed Heinemann chose to marry the design to Wright's 1,800 hp Cyclone radial engine. From 1940 through 1944, the Dauntless was the Navy and Marine Corps' primary dive bomber, and it performed heroically in the limelight. The finest hour (literally) for the SBD was during the battle of Midway, when four carrier-borne squadrons of Navy Dauntlesses attacked the Japanese aircraft carriers Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu, sinking all four — three of them in a span of just six minutes. It was a knockout blow from which the Japanese navy never recovered. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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51 Dassault Rafale
Stealthy Fly-by-Wire Fighter A nimble multi-role fighter, the French Rafale, developed and produced by Dassault, incorporates the latest warbird technologies available today. The airframe, which is capable of withstanding +9 or -3 G and was designed for minimal radar and infrared detection, is constructed mostly of composite materials, but also incorporates Kevlar, titanium and aluminum. Rafael's SPECTRA system can detect threats such as missiles, lasers and radar, and its ultra-modern cockpit incorporates voice commands for such functions as navigation and armament selection, a head-up-display and the ability to use night-vision goggles. Rafale was designed with a delta wing, moving canards, a fly-by-wire control system and two Snecma M88 engines capable of producing 16,900 pounds of thrust with afterburners. Despite its supersonic capabilities, Rafale's minimum landing speed is only 115 knots. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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50 Bristol Blenheim
Revolutionary Light Bomber The Bristol Blenheim, a British light bomber that saw extensive service in the early days of World War II, was for a time one of the most advanced military airplanes in the world. First flown in April 1935, the Blenheim was one of the first British aircraft to feature retractable landing gear, flaps, variable-pitch propellers and a powered machine gun turret. By the start of the war, however, the design was already showing its age, as its light armament and slow speed was no match for the German Messerschmitts with which it often tangled. As a result, the Blenheim was restricted mainly to night bombing missions. It faded from service altogether by the end of 1942, when the much faster de Havilland Mosquito arrived on the scene in large numbers. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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49 Bell P-39 Airacobra
Fighting Differently One of the most innovative designs of World War II, the Airacobra featured most notably a mid-engine driving the front-mounted tractor prop with a long drive shaft. It was also noteworthy for being a tricycle gear design in an era of taildragger fighters. Bell, now known for its helicopters, built nearly 10,000 P-39s, a surprising fact as the type is not as well known as other rival Allied fighters like the Mustang and Corsair. The P-39 was very fast at low altitude, but its insufficiently powerful turbocharger limited its high-altitude capability, often relegating it to ground support duty. The Soviets loved the P-39, and used it to down, along with other Allied operators, more enemy planes than any other American made fighter. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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48 Curtiss SB2C Helldiver
WWII Dive Bomber The Curtiss Helldiver was an airplane pilots didn't realize they liked until it was almost too late. The British Royal Navy rejected the Helldiver for combat service while Joseph Clark, the commanding officer of the USS Yorktown, one of the first carriers on which the dive bomber was deployed, recommended that it be withdrawn from service and production canceled. Indeed, the perceived shortcoming of the Helldiver drove Curtiss out of business. And yet toward the end of World War II, the Helldiver racked up an impressive combat record and their crews began changing their opinion about the big, radial engine aircraft. Curtiss paid a price for turning the Helldiver into an acceptable carrier-operated bomber as the Navy ordered more than 800 changes to the original design. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.Jim Koepnick
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47 Heinkel He 111
German Faux Transport Ernst Heinkel's medium bomber was one of Germany's faux transports, designed and put into production during the 1930s as a civilian airliner. Forbidden to take up arms by the Versailles Treaty that ended World War I, Germany began its "stealth" version of retooling for war under Adolf Hitler. The Heinkel 111 was presented as a high-speed airliner but was destined to play out its true role in the skies over London during the Battle of Britain. Its original design started with Heinkel's He 70 single-engine, four-passenger transport, first produced in 1932. The He 111 was a twin-engine variant that could carry more passengers. Subsequent development called for an open area forward of the passenger cabin thinly disguised as a "smoking lounge," which would later become the bomb bay. After WWII, the type remained in military service until 1973. The 1969 film, The Battle of Britain used several Spanish air force CASA 2.111s repainted to represent Luftwaffe He 111s. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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46 Curtiss P-40 Warhawk
Tiger Toothed Fighter Shark-nose P-40s flown in defense of China by Claire Chennault's American Volunteer Group (AVG — better known as the "Flying Tigers") captured the imagination and patriotism of Americans in the dark, early days of World War II. Unfortunately, their early, export-version P-40s were inferior to the Japanese Zeros they were thrown up against. The P-40 was not much more than an inline-engine derivative of the radial-engine P-36 from the early 1930s. Its Allison V-12 engine lacked supercharging, meaning performance fell off sharply at altitude. But Chennault wisely taught his pilots to leverage the P-40s tactical strengths — superior firepower, better armor protection, modern self-sealing fuel tanks and impressive speed in a dive — to help the Chinese stem the tide against the Japanese. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.Jim Koepnick
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45 Tupolev SB Bomber
Early WWII Soviet Bomber In the late 1930s, Andrei Tupolev was summoned to address deficiencies in his developmental ANT-40 SB fast bomber. What became famous as the Tupolev SB went on to become one of the Soviet Union's most important warplanes of the late 1930s and the beginning of World War II. It was the first Russian bomber to use stressed skin construction, where the aluminum skin provides much of the structural strength. The SB was successful against early German fighters during the Spanish Civil War and also saw service in China, Mongolia and Finland. After the Germans attacked Russia and the Luftwaffe unleashed its latest fighters, however, the SB quickly became obsolete. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.Kpisman via Creative Commons
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44 Grumman F6F Hellcat
Next-Gen Carrier Fighter As the United States Pacific Fleet advanced island by island toward Japan, the Grumman F6F Hellcat emerged as the Navy’s new frontline fighter, replacing the Chance Vought Corsair in that role. The Hellcat resembled Grumman’s early wartime fighter, the F4F Wildcat, but it was a far superior airplane. With a 2,000 hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double-Wasp 18-cylinder radial engine, the Hellcat was as mean a machine as its name suggests. It was the fighter that helped the Navy secure air superiority in the Pacific as the Japanese Zero struggled to contend with it. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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43 Breuguet 14
WWI Metal Bomber Considered by many as one of the technologically best aircraft of the First World War, the Breguet 14 was a French two-seat bomber and reconnaissance aircraft. Introduced in 1917, it was one of the first mass-produced warplanes to use large amounts of metal in its structure, rather than wood. The result was a lighter airframe, fast and maneuverable. The Breguet 14 was said to be capable of outrunning single-seat fighters, though when engaged could sustain substantial battle damage and still get home. The Breguet 14 continued in production after the war and served with several countries' military services (including 500 by the U.S.), even being converted to passenger service. More than 8,000 were built before production ceased in 1928, 10 years after the end of the war. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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42 Martin B-26 Marauder
Hero of D-Day One of the unsung heroes of the Allied war effort, the Martin B-26 was a medium bomber that could pack a wallop, serving as a ground attack airplane capable of coming in fast and low, and a ground support platform with a lot of firepower. At first the B-26 was a handful to fly, but Martin eventually gave the B-26 a much larger vertical tail (its most prominent feature), longer and more forgiving wings and improved engines (Pratt & Whitney R-2800s). On D-Day, the B-26 was one of the most valuable assets attacking Nazi positions, and by war’s end it suffered the fewest losses of any Allied airplane. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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41 Sopwith Camel
Great Allied Hope Introduced in 1917, the WWI biplane was the most successful Allied fighter of the conflict, thanks to its excellent maneuverability and firepower. It was one of the earliest models to have its machine guns fire through the prop disc, making use of a synchronization gear to keep the prop intact. The nickname "Camel" came from the hump on the upper fuselage between the upper and lower wing, though it is not as pronounced as its moniker would imply. Powered by a variety of engines up to 150 hp, the Camel was comparatively fast and powerful, but over time as the war bore on it met more capable opposition and was relegated a ground attack role. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.Gavin Conroy
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40 Avro Lancaster
Big British Bomber The British aircraft manufacturer Avro produced the Lancaster, which went on to become the most successful bomber of the Royal Air Force. The Lancaster could carry a bomb load of 22,000 pounds at speeds of 275 mph. For long-range missions, the airplane could cruise at 200 mph above 20,000 feet and fly as far as 1,500 miles. The Lancaster made important contributions during D-Day and saw great success in several target missions, destroying such important targets as submarine engine factories, rocket launch sites and dams. Between 1941 and 1946 Avro cranked out 7,377 Lancasters. Many missions were conducted at low elevations and at night, and about 3,500 Lancasters are estimated to have been lost in operations. Most of the airplanes that survived the war were scrapped, and only two of these unique airplanes remain in flying condition today. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.Marc Evans via Creative Commons
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39 Nieuport 11
Early French WWI Fighter French aircraft designer Gustave Delage had no way of knowing when he created the first drawings of the Nieuport 11 in 1914 that he was about to make a major contribution to the art of aerial warfare. The nimble single-seater was originally intended to enter the Gordon Bennett Cup air race. The outbreak of World War I changed all that, and the Bebé, as it was soon nicknamed, became a favorite of early aces, who prized the French pursuit for its exceptional climb rate and outstanding maneuverability. It generally outclassed the Fokker Eindecker, at the time the most feared fighter in the world. Today the Nieuport 11 is a preferred choice of builders of WWI fighter replica aircraft. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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38 North American B-25
Miracle _Morale Maker In 1942 the B-25 was thrust into the limelight as a symbol of American hope and strength after the twin-engine bomber carried Jimmy Doolittle and his fellow raiders to victory during the first ever U.S. bombing of the Japanese mainland. While the B-25 is best known for its success during that brave mission, its role as a vital Allied aircraft during World War II went much further, including responsibilities that ranged from high and low level bombing to reconnaissance, among others. Powered by two 1,700 hp Wright R-2600 engines and easily identified because of its twin tail, the B-25 typically carried a formidable 5,000 pounds of bombs. Its versatility and reliability made it one of the most valuable Allied aircraft during World War II, so much so that it was produced in numbers nearing 10,000. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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37 Hawker Harrier
Vertical Revolutionary Hawker Siddeley achieved what appeared to be the impossible when it developed the Harrier jet, the first airplane capable of vertical/short takeoff and landing (V/STOL) in the 1960s. But the success didn't come without failure. Three of six prototypes crashed during the development phase. Through thrust vectoring of its massive Pegasus turbofan, the airplane can lift off vertically, hover, sidestep left and right, and takeoff, seemingly like a rocket, to speeds as fast as 730 mph. With its V/STOL capability and attachment points for guns, rockets, bombs and missiles, the Harrier is one of the most versatile warbirds ever made. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.Jim Koepnick
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36 Hawker Hurricane
Battle of Britain Defender Hailed for destroying 80 percent of all enemy aircraft during the period between July to October 1940, the Hawker Hurricane played a bigger role in attaining victory during the Battle of Britain than perhaps any other aircraft. The Hurricane was initially produced in the mid-1930s as a monoplane descendent of the Hawker Fury, but the fighter received a number of modern upgrades over the years, including metal wings and a constant speed prop. While not as strong a performer as the later-arriving Spitfire, the Hurricane provided the Royal Air Force with a speedy, robust platform that could sustain a hefty amount of damage and didn’t require a lot of downtime for repair. Those assets would be put to good use throughout World War II until the fighter was finally supplanted by the Hawker Typhoon. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.Tony Hisgett via Creative Commons
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35 SPAD S.XIII
WWI Game Changer Designed and built in France a little more than a decade after the Wright brothers' famous flight, the Societe Pour l'Aviation et ses Derives' SPAD S.XIII was equipped with a 220 horsepower Hispano-Suiza V-8 engine, which brought the airplane to a top speed of 135 mph — lightning fast in its day. Mounted above the engine were two machine guns capable of carrying 400 rounds of ammunition. The pilot could fire both machine guns simultaneously, if desired. More than 10 percent of the 8,472 SPAD S.XIIIs produced went to U.S. fighter squadrons, and famous fighter ace Captain Eddie Rickenbacker saw many victories in the airplane. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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34 Junkers Ju-87 "Stuka"
Death from Above In the 1930s, Germany's Ernst Udet, the flamboyant World War I fighter pilot, got the chance to fly an American Curtiss Hawk biplane, designed for dive bombing. He became such a strong advocate of the tactic that he went so far as to recommend that even medium bombers be designed and outfitted for dive bombing. Starting in 1933, Junkers focused its efforts on a dedicated Sturtzkampfflugzeug ("dive bomber") – shortened to "Stuka." Though some test pilots died in crashes, development continued, and the first Stukas saw combat during the Spanish Civil War. One feature the Luftwaffe exploited was the "Trumpet of Jericho" siren mounted on one of its fixed-gear landing spats to terrify enemy soldiers under attack. Other innovations included dive brakes, which slowed the airspeed during bombing runs, enabling pilots to aim their bombs with greater precision. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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33 McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet
Multi-Role Fighter Jet Best known as the platform used by the Navy's Blue Angels since the mid-1980s, the F/A-18 Super Hornet is an all-weather fighter and attack aircraft that has proven its mettle in every U.S. conflict of the last 30 years. Known for its exceptional survivability, Hornets flying over Iraq during Desert Storm in 1991 were known to take direct missile hits, fly home for repairs and be back in the air the next day. The F/A-18 is considered a "force multiplier" by military leaders because of its ability to be quickly refitted with armament for fighter or attack roles, or a combination of both. Powered by two GE F404 turbofan engines, the original F/A-18 Hornet has a top speed of Mach 1.8. An improved version, the F/A-18 Super Hornet introduced in 1995, has more powerful GE F414 engines and a compendium of advanced technology that ensure the airplane will remain in service for years to come. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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32 Consolidated B-24 Liberator
Heavy Bomber, Heavy Tolls Once you understand the capabilities and the record of the Consolidated B-24 heavy bomber, it's hard to believe the big warbird is largely unknown by the general public and overshadowed by the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. In fact, the B-24 was faster, carried a heavier payload, could handle larger bombs and had a longer range than the B-17. It was also the most prolific heavy bomber and U.S. warbird, with more than 18,000 produced. Powered by four Pratt & Whitney R-1830 double-row radial engines of 1,200 horsepower, the Liberator was most famous for its participation in the air raids on the Axis oil fields in Ploesti. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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31 Handley-Page Bomber Type O
Bombs Away This early-WWI bomber was the largest aircraft to be built in the U.K. when introduced early in the war. Eventually, the name "Handley Page" became synonymous with "large aircraft." The Type O (the letter "O" for "Oscar" — not the numeral) was a massive twin-engine biplane, with biplane tail surfaces larger than most of the era's airplanes' main wings. The four-blade, wood propellers were counter-rotating to cancel the torque from their massive weight. First operational use of the bomber occurred late in 1916 when a Royal Navy Air Service squadron attacked a German-held railway junction. Presaging a decision to come much later during World War II, Handley Page bombers were first used in daylight attacks, but later confined to nighttime-only operations when one was lost to German pursuit (fighter) aircraft. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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30 Focke-Wulf 190
Next-Gen WWII Fighter One of the strongest aerial weapons German fighter pilots deployed was the Focke-Wulf 190. With the terrific performance and stable flight characteristics of the Fw-190, pilots were thrown into combat with little experience flying the single-seat fighter. Despite their inexperience in the airplane, they became so successful that the airplane caught the nickname "Würger," which translates to shrike or slayer. The Germans continually modified the airplanes in the Luftwaffe, and the Fw-190 went through several models, first with an air-cooled, radial, 1,529-horsepower BMW engine and eventually with a liquid-cooled Junkers Jumo 213 engine with 1,770 horsepower. More than 20,000 Fw-190s were built in the late 1930s to mid-1940s. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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29 Sukhoi Su-27
Cobra! With the advent of a next generation of American fighters in the 1980s, the Soviet Union responded with a pair of high-powered highly maneuverable fighters, the MiG-29 and the larger Sukhoi Su-27, both of which are still in production. The Mach 2.35 Sukhoi model is powered by a pair of 17,000-pound-thrust Saturn engines (with afterburner). The airplane makes use of fly-by-wire flight control, a first for an operational Soviet fighter aircraft, and its maneuverable design allows it to perform what is known as the Cobra maneuver, in which the pilot can put the airplane into a brief nearly vertical angle of attack, showcasing its nimble flying manners as well as the stall prevention capabilities of a fly-by-wire system. The USSR built more than 800 Su-27s, and it remains Russia and Ukraine's front-line fighter. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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28 Republic P-47 Thunderbolt
Speed and Power Combined At first, American fighter pilots in England were unimpressed with the Thunderbolt. But they soon learned to appreciate the Thunderbolt's assets. It had a very effective roll rate, and when you had the altitude advantage, it sure could build up speed in a dive. Best of all, the Thunderbolt could take a thrashing and still get home. Pilot Bob Wehrman remembered being attacked from behind by Fw 190s and then looking up to see two cylinders missing — (not just "misfiring," but physically blown off the engine) and flying all the way back to England from deep inside France. With eight .50 caliber machine guns, the durable P-47 was also a potent ground attack platform later in the war after Luftwaffe opposition had dried up almost completely. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.Scott Slocum
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27 Yakovlev Yak-9
Top Tier Soviet Fighter With production numbering more than 17,000 by some counts, the Yak-9 is one of the most-produced fighters of all time. It is also in our view one of the most beautiful. Introduced in 1942 to combat the German threat the Yak-9 immediately met with success, offering a fight to the Messerschmitts and Focke Wulf fighters that initially dominated the skies over the USSR during the Nazis' advance in 1941 with Operation Barbarossa. With great speed, better than 360 knots, and great high-altitude performance, the liquid-cooled V-12-powered Yak-9 was a very advanced machine for its day. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.Gavin Conroy
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26 de Havilland Mosquito
Wooden Wonder Plane Revered around the world as the "wooden wonder," the de Havilland Mosquito is as beautiful as it is unique. In 1938, as war in Europe loomed, de Havilland pitched the idea for an all-wooden bomber without armament to the British Air Ministry, thinking that wood would be much easier to come by than other materials during a time of conflict and that the lack of armament would increase speed and bomb load. The proposal was turned down by the Air Ministry, but de Havilland decided to pursue the design as a private venture, and when the Mossie prototype first flew in late 1940, officials were blown away by the aircraft's performance. Thousands went on to be produced, and the aircraft was used in all theaters of World War II in a variety of roles, including bombing and reconnaissance. Today, there are only two of these beauties still flying. View more Mosquito photos here. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.Scott Slocum
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25 MiG-21
Supersonic Soviet Fighter Jet With more than 11,000 MiG-21s produced, the Russian manufacturer Mikoyan-Gurevich hit the jackpot when it designed the supersonic fighter in the 1950s. This warbird was produced from 1959 through 1985, mostly in the Soviet Union, and employed in air forces of more than 60 countries, some of which still operate the jet. Some variants of the MiG-21 were capable of withstanding +8.5 Gs and achieving climb rates of more than 46,000 fpm. During the Vietnam War, the MiG-21 often beat out the American F-4 Phantoms, and the airplane saw combat in many international conflicts in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Africa. But the formidable performance came with an Achilles heel — the fighter could only fly for about 45 minutes. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.Pacific Aviation Museum via Wikipedia Creative Commons
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24 Junkers JU 88
Germany's Jackknife A jack of all trades workhorse for Germany during WWII, the JU 88 was one of the most valuable aircraft in the Luftwaffe's arsenal. The 30,000-pound twin worked as a bomber, heavy fighter, night fighter and attack platform, among other roles. It was one of the only German airplanes to defend the skies over Normandy at D-Day, though both JU 88s that responded were quickly shot down. Germany built more than 15,000 Ju 88s during the war, and the Luftwaffe operated the twin from its introduction in 1938 through the end of the war. By 1944, however, the roughly 300-knot twin was outclassed by new Allied fighters. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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23 Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5
Turning the Tide of War Toward the end of WWI after the German air forces had assumed superiority over Allied fighters, the S.E.5, a biplane fighter with a powerful V-8 engine, arrived on the scene. Along with a couple of other improved Allied designs, it helped turn the tide of the air war. Allied commanders deemed the S.E.5 so vital to the cause — and superior to the Sopwith Camel — that they rushed airplanes to the front even before they were ready or reliable enough to withstand the rigors of war. By 1918, however, the squarish fighter was outfitted with a more powerful engine and production was increased to support the growing presence at the Western Front. Within two years British factories had produced more than 5,000 S.E.5s, and the airplane remains one of the most iconic fighters of the war. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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22 Bell UH-1 Iroquois (Huey)
Gunship, Rescue Ship Though officially named the Iroquois, the UH-1 is almost universally referred to as the "Huey," owing to its original HU-1 designation. No matter what you call it, during the Vietnam War the big Bell single turboshaft UH-1 did everything the U.S. Army asked of it and then some. Of the roughly 7,000 Hueys that made it to Vietnam, more than half were destroyed, very often while saving the lives of countless soldiers by flying them from battle zones under heavy fire to medical care. As a gunship, the UH-1 was without peer, due to its ability to come in low and slow with guns blazing from its big barn doors to provide support to troops on the ground while rooting out enemy soldiers in the jungle. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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21 Northrop Grumman B2 Bomber
New Paradigm Bomber The B-2 bomber looks like something out of the future, and rightfully so, since it continues to provide the U.S. military with revolutionary stealth bombing capabilities more than 20 years after it first entered service. Able to carry both nuclear and conventional bombs, the B-2 bomber relies on a variety of highly advanced stealth technologies to achieve the invisibility needed to penetrate the most heavily guarded enemy targets. Frequently used to fly combat missions that can last more than 30 hours at a time, the B-2 has been employed in the war in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, often conducting flights that originate in the U.S., head to the Middle East and return, all in the same trip. The fleet of flying wings is slated to receive a massive upgrade that will keep the bombers flying until 2058. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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20 Fokker Tri-Plane DR1
Red Baron's Iconic Ride Made famous by its remarkable looks and its celebrity ace, the Fokker Dr-1 is without question the best known airplane of WWI and one of the most distinctive in aviation history. In the hands of Manfred von Richthofen, aka the Red Baron, the Dr.1 was one of the most lethal dogfighters of the war, accounting for 19 out of his 80 kills. Despite its fame, the Dr.1 suffered numerous deficiencies, including a lack of speed compared to top Allied planes and poor climb and high-altitude capabilities. The last two Fokker triplanes of more than 300 built were destroyed by Allied bombing strikes, strangely enough, not during WWI but while on display in museums in Germany at the end of WWII. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.Gary Rosier
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19 Ilyushin IL-2
Soviet Flying Tank The Soviet Union built 42,330 Sturmovik ground-attack aircraft during World War II (including the Il-2 and the follow-on Il-10), but apparently even that massive output wasn't enough for Josef Stalin. The Russian dictator once cabled an Ilyushin factory manager with the message: "They are as essential to the Red Army as air and bread. I demand more machines. This is my final warning!" Nicknamed the "Flying Tank," the Sturmovik was a single-engine low-wing two-seater (pilot and rear gunner). Most noteworthy was the fact that it incorporated heavy armor plating designed as part of its load-bearing structure (as opposed to adding armor plate after the fact). The armor was configured to protect the cockpit, engine, fuel tanks and liquid-cooling radiator and hoses. Used effectively in mass aerial attacks such as in the Battle of Kursk, the Sturmovik was, nevertheless, also known as easy meat for Luftwaffe pilots. More than 14,000 were claimed as destroyed on the Eastern Front. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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18 Boeing B-52 Stratofortress
Cold and Hot War Bomber First introduced in the mid 1950s, the B-52 has remained in service longer than any other American bomber in history — and for good reason. With its iconic swept wing and eight 17,000-pound thrust turbofan engines, the B-52 has managed to change with the times and adapt to play a vital role in each new conflict, whether it be conducting carpet bombing during the Vietnam War or providing close air support in Afghanistan. The airplane was originally designed as a straight-wing turboprop, but after the Air Force requested a jet-powered proposal, the Boeing team went back to the drawing board. Some 60 years later, the airplane known reverently by its crews as "Buff" (big ugly fat … you get the idea) remains capable today of dropping the widest range of U.S. weapons of any aircraft and is projected to remain active until 2040. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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17 Lockheed P-38 Lightning
Fork-Tailed Devil The P-38, also named the Fork-Tailed Devil, is one of the most easily identified warbirds ever made. Lockheed designed the airplane in the 1930s with twin booms led by supercharged 1,000 hp Allison V-1710 engines with counter-rotating propellers. Seated in a cockpit between the two booms, the pilot had access to four 50-caliber machine guns and a 20 mm cannon, all mounted in the nose, making the P-38 a formidable fighter. The pilot could fire more than 4,000 rounds per minute. An engineering marvel, the twin-Allison-powered Lightning could climb at 3,300 fpm, fly at 400 mph, carry more payload than early B-17 bombers and fly missions as far as 1,150 nm. More than 10,000 P-38s were produced by Lockheed. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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16 Lockheed U-2
Intelligence Gathering Warbird As the Cold War heated up President Dwight Eisenhower sought a new reconnaissance aircraft that could keep a closer eye on Soviet military developments. In came the plan for the U-2, a high-flying airplane with a lengthy sail-plane-like wing that weighed one-third that of traditional wings at the time. Created in the depths of Lockheed Martin's super secret Skunk Works division, the U-2 could fly as high as 70,000 feet and carry up to 700 pounds of reconnaissance gear. For years the aircraft operated under the veil of secrecy until 1960 when a U-2 was shot down in Soviet territory. Nicknamed the Dragon Lady for her unpredictable flying characteristics, the U-2 demanded a chase car to assist pilots in landing on the airplane's bicycle-configured gear. Despite its quirks, the airplane would prove so vital that it is still used today for a variety of missions including everything from NASA research to IED detection in the Middle East. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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15 Douglas C-47
Game-Changing Transport The Douglas C-47, known in the civilian world as the DC-3, is arguably one of the most versatile large airplanes ever made and, like a popular child, it bore several names. Whether you call it a C-47, DC-3, Skytrain, Gooney Bird or Dakota, the airplane was originally designed as a passenger airplane for TWA airlines. However, it became a vital part of the Allied fleet in World War II, particularly during D-Day and missions over "The Hump" — the India to China airlift over the Himalayan mountains. It has served in military missions for a long list of countries since. In addition to being well suited for carrying supplies, the C-47 was ideal for dropping paratroopers, with its wide rear door located between the left wing and elevator. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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14 Lockheed SR-71
Mach 3 Spyplane Air Force Colonel and SR-71 pilot Jim Wadkins once described flying the Blackbird at 85,000 feet and Mach 3 as "almost a religious experience." It's not hard to see why. With the speed to sustain more than 2,000 mph, the SR-71 still holds the record as the fastest air-breathing aircraft ever built more than half a century after it was first developed. That speed, combined with its high-flying abilities and a radar signature smaller than the size of a man, worked together to make the Blackbird an incredibly undetectable reconnaissance tool with which to combat the Soviets. The airplane was able to survey a whopping 100,000 square miles of Earth every hour, delivering an immeasurable edge to Western forces throughout the Cold War. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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13 Messerschmitt Me 262
First Fighter Jet As the first operational jet-powered fighter airplane, the Messerschmitt Me 262 became one of the greatest fears of Allied World War II air force pilots. After initially testing the airframe with a propeller-engine mounted up front, the German Luftwaffe first flew the airplane with the Junkers Jumo jet engines in 1942. But the airplane didn't see action until 1944. While used to some extent as a bomber, its greatest success was as a fighter armed with four MK-108 cannons. However, the cannons were only accurate at short range, so the speed of the Me 262, which topped out at 540 mph, was in some ways a deterrent to success as the fighter pilots, many of whom were short on training in the airplane, had trouble hitting their targets before having to break off to avoid a collision. Nonetheless, the introduction of the Me 262 marked the beginning of the end for piston-engine fighter airplanes. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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12 McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle
Air Supremacy Fighter First flown in the early 1970s, the F-15 emerged as an unsurpassed fighter that would ensure America's air dominance for decades to come. With a killer package of maneuverability, advanced avionics and weapons fire control, the F-15 has won more than 100 victories with no losses over the course of history, establishing the strongest air-to-air combat ratio ever. With the introduction of the F-15, an airplane's thrust surpassed its loaded weight for the first time ever, giving the fighter the ability to accelerate during a vertical climb. The airplane's incredible performance also allowed it to shatter eight time-to-climb records upon its introduction, including one in which it reached 98,425 feet in less than three and a half minutes. More than 40 years after its integration into America's armed forces, the F-15 still remains a vital component of the U.S. fighter fleet. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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11 Supermarine Spitfire
Defender of the Realm Reginald Mitchell's Spitfire was more than a fighter plane. It was, and remains to this day, a national symbol of the British people's will to endure through the uncertain days of Germany's 1940 aerial onslaught. The Spitfire's legacy started with what was learned during the 1930s Schneider Trophy races. Mitchell's company, Supermarine, produced bullet-shaped monoplanes that flew faster than 400 mph. In an age of steel-tube, wood and fabric fighters, Spitfire pilots sat shoulder-deep in a narrow all-metal fuselage, a bubble of clear Perspex over their heads. The elegant elliptical wings not only knifed through the sky with ease, but also carried eight machine guns. The long, aristocratic nose of the Spitfire held its V-12 Merlin engine, designed and manufactured by British icon Rolls-Royce. Of more than 20,000 built, less than 250 Spitfires are still flying. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.Scott Slocum
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10 Mitsubishi A6M Zero
Imperial Fighter Renowned for its agility and maneuverability, the Japanese Zero gained a reputation early on in World War II as a much feared dog fighter. Built with new lightweight aluminum, the A6M emerged in 1940 as an incredibly light, swift and long-legged carrier plane, the first of its kind able to outpace land aircraft. However, as time went on and the U.S. built more capable fighters — efforts helped in part by testing done on an intact Zero found in the Aleutian Islands — the Zero waned in influence. As its edge dwindled, the Zeros went on to be flown for more Kamikaze suicide attacks than any other airplane. All told, nearly 11,000 Zeros were manufactured during 1940 to 1945, making the model the most produced Japanese airplane of WWII. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.Kogo via Creative Commons
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9 Albatros D.III
Fighter that Changed WWI While plywood would likely be one of the last types of material considered when building a fighter airplane today, it was the material of choice for the World War I Albatros, introduced in 1916 by Albatros-Flugzeugwerke in Germany. The beautifully shaped plywood construction resulted in a lighter airframe than the fabric-covered designs of that era, and the Albatros outclassed most of the British Royal Flying Corps aircraft. Armed with two machine guns, the biplane's greatest success was seen during what was termed "Bloody April" — a month when the Germans shot down 245 British aircraft, 89 of which were struck by famed fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen's squadron Jasta 11, which flew the Albatros D.III. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.Gavin Conroy
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8 Chance Vought F4U Corsair
Carrier Fighter Extraordinaire While Vought’s first Corsair was the O2U biplane, introduced in the mid-1920s, the version that is best known is the mono-wing with the easily distinguishable inverted gull-wing. The F4U Corsair has become a favorite of many warbird enthusiasts, not only for its beautiful design but also for its fierceness. Designed to carry bombs, rockets and guns, and to be flown off of aircraft carriers, with folding wings and good short field capabilities, the Corsair exhibited terrific versatility and was employed extensively in World War II and the Korean war. More than 12,500 F4U Corsairs were delivered by the American company until the end of production in 1953. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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7 Messerschmitt Me-109
Luftwaffe's Go-To Fighter Willy Messerschmitt's best known product began life as a four-seat civilian sportplane known as the Me 108 "Taifun." Constricted by terms of the Armistice that ended World War I, a bitter Germany began gearing up for war in the 1930s by disguising its aeronautical development in the sheep's clothing of civilian aircraft. Messerschmitt's "cruiser" design used stressed-skin construction, leading-edge wing slats, outwardly retractable landing gear and a modern in-line, liquid-cooled engine — all traits that were well advanced at that time, and later incorporated into the fighter. Early versions of the Me 109 saw combat during the Spanish Civil War, where the Luftwaffe honed its tactics and Messerschmitt refined his fighter. During the Battle of Britain, the Me 109 was Germany's primary escort, though its short range limited its time over London to 10 minutes, leaving the Luftwaffe's bombers to the mercy of the Royal Air Force's Spitfire and Hurricane fighters. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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6 McDonnell Douglas F-4
Supersonic Powerhouse With the speed to travel from Los Angeles to New York in less than three hours and the ability to climb to a never-before-breached 98,556 feet, the F-4 brought a slew of new capabilities into the hands of U.S. military personnel and other Western countries when it first went into service in the early 1960s. The two-seat fighter could carry twice as much as a B-17 during World War II and participated in conflicts spanning Vietnam all the way to Desert Storm. With a worldwide fleet totaling more than 5,000 the F-4 was produced in greater numbers than any other American supersonic fighter. The airplane is still used today, a testament to its endurance. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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5 Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress
Daring Daylight Bomber The B-17 is probably the most famous bomber of all time, legendary for its ability to stay in the air after taking brutal poundings from German and Japanese fighters. Introduced in 1937, the B-17 cemented its reputation almost as soon as World War II began, flying high-altitude bombing missions with the British Royal Air Force. A Seattle newspaper reporter coined the name "Flying Fortress" upon seeing the prototype in 1935 bristling with machine guns, a name Boeing quickly trademarked. The B-17E model introduced in 1941 with a fuselage 10 feet longer than the prototype and a gunner's position added to the tail was the first Flying Fortress to be mass produced. In all Boeing built more than 12,000 B-17s right through the end of the war. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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4 General Atomics MQ-1 Predator Drone
Robotic Attack Plane Criticized by some for being an unfair fighter aircraft with its ability to attack its adversaries without putting its operators at risk, General Atomics' MQ-1 Predator is an unmanned aerial system used in combat missions by the U.S. Air Force and the CIA. Equipped with external cameras that can find their targets with extreme precision both during the day and at night, and armed with two Hellfire missiles, the Predator can attack its enemy with a complete element of surprise from as high as 25,000 feet. In addition to its precise ability to attack, the drone is also used for surveillance and reconnaissance missions. The Predator is operated through satellite or line of sight links connecting the flight controls to pilots in a mobile ground control station. Powered by a four-cylinder turbocharged Rotax 914F engine, the USAF version of the Predator can reach speeds of 135 mph. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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3 North American F-86 Sabre
Swept-Wing, Jet-Age Fighter With its swept-wing design, powerful engine and superior armament capability, the North American F-86 Sabre jet's maneuverability, speed and firing power were far superior to the Russian MiG's, at least in the later versions with their "flying tail" empennage. Most F-86s were equipped with six machine guns capable of firing 1,200 rounds per minute, and the fighter-bomber version could carry up to 2,000 pounds worth of bombs. Rockets and cannons were also used. The transonic jet was first delivered in 1951 and it became so successful that several countries produced it under license. Nearly 10,000 F-86s of various kinds were produced and the airplane saw use in air forces around the world until it was finally retired in Bolivia in 1994. Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.Tony Hisgett via Creative Commons
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2 Boeing B-29 Superfortress
Bomber for a New World Introduced during the closing years of World War II, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress was in its day the most advanced bomber ever built. With cutting-edge features such as a pressurized cabin, automated gun stations and four Wright Duplex Cyclone 2,200-hp engines, the B-29 was designed as a high-altitude bomber that would fly high and fast and turn the tide of the war in the Pacific. The B-29 Enola Gay was, of course, universally known as the airplane used to drop an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, the first wartime use of a nuclear weapon. After the war the B-29 was used for military transport and resupply, and it did service as a high-altitude bomber in the early days of Korea. In all, Boeing built nearly 4,000 B-29s, though there is just one airworthy example left, Fifi, owned and operated by the Commemorative Air Force. Related Links:
P-51 and B-29 Warbird Tour Photos
B-29 Superfortress "FIFI": 2014 CAF Airpower History Tour Photos Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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1 North American P-51 Mustang Plane that Saved the World The North American P-51 Mustang is not only the most recognizable warbird in United States history, but it also just might be the plane that won the war for the Allies. Produced in great numbers, more than 15,000, the Mustang went from concept to flying example in just over 100 days. The model was always good, but it hit its stride with the addition of the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, which allowed the Mustang to make the round trip from England to Berlin and back, accompanying B-17 bombers deep into enemy territory, allowing the heavy bombers the protection from German fighters they needed to inflict heavy damage on the Nazi war machine. (Photo credit to Scott Slocum) Related Links:
P-51 and B-29 Warbird Tour Photos
A Jet Jockey Flies the P-51 Mustang Photos
Video: 360-Degree P-51, F-22 Formation Flight Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.
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Want more aircraft? Check out Flying's 25 Most Beautiful Airplanes for pure aviation eye candy. Click here to view the list. Or check out our 20 Most Famous Airplanes and Aircraft for those that made history in aviation! Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.