10. Boeing B-52 Stratofortress
The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress is a long-range, subsonic, jet-powered strategic bomber. The B-52 was designed and built by Boeing, which has continued to provide support and upgrades. It has been operated by the United States Air Force (USAF) since the 1950s. The bomber is capable of carrying up to 70,000 pounds (32,000 kg) of weapons, and has a typical combat range of more than 8,800 miles (14,080 km) without aerial refueling.
Beginning with the successful contract bid in June 1946, the B-52 design evolved from a straight wing aircraft powered by six turboprop engines to the final prototype YB-52 with eight turbojet engines and swept wings. The B-52 took its maiden flight in April 1952. Built to carry nuclear weapons for Cold War-era deterrence missions, the B-52 Stratofortress replaced the Convair B-36. A veteran of several wars, the B-52 has dropped only conventional munitions in combat. The B-52’s official name Stratofortress is rarely used; informally, the aircraft has become commonly referred to as the BUFF (Big Ugly Fat Fucker).[Note 1]
The B-52 has been in active service with the USAF since 1955. As of 2012, 85 were in active service with nine in reserve. The bombers flew under the Strategic Air Command (SAC) until it was inactivated in 1992 and its aircraft absorbed into the Air Combat Command (ACC); in 2010 all B-52 Stratofortresses were transferred from the ACC to the newly created Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC). Superior performance at high subsonic speeds and relatively low operating costs have kept the B-52 in service despite the advent of later, more advanced aircraft, including the canceled Mach 3 B-70 Valkyrie, the variable-geometry B-1 Lancer, and the stealth B-2 Spirit. The B-52 completed sixty years of continuous service with its original operator in 2015. After being upgraded between 2013 and 2015, it is expected to serve into the 2040s.[Note 2]
9. Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II
The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II is a single seat, twin turbofan engine, straight wing jet aircraft developed by Fairchild-Republic for the United States Air Force. Commonly referred to by its nicknames“Warthog” or “Hog”, its official name comes from the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, a fighter particularly effective at close air support. The A-10 was designed for close-in support of ground troops, close air support(CAS), providing quick-action support for troops against helicopters, vehicles, and ground troops. It entered service in 1976 and is the only production-built aircraft that has served in the USAF that was designed solely for CAS. Its secondary mission is to provide forward air controller – airborne (FAC-A) support, by directing other aircraft in attacks on ground targets. Aircraft used primarily in this role are designated OA-10.
The A-10 was intended to improve on the performance of the A-1 Skyraider and its poor firepower. The A-10 was designed around the 30 mm GAU-8 Avenger rotary cannon. Its airframe was designed for durability, with measures such as 1,200 pounds (540 kg) of titanium armor to protect the cockpit and aircraft systems, enabling it to absorb a significant amount of damage and continue flying. Its short takeoff and landing capability permits operation from airstrips close to the front lines, and its simple design enables maintenance with minimal facilities. The A-10 served in Operation Desert Shield, and Operation Desert Storm, the American intervention against Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, where the A-10 distinguished itself. The A-10 also participated in other conflicts such as Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada, the Balkans, Afghanistan,Iraq, and against ISIL in the Middle East.
The A-10A single-seat variant was the only version produced, though one pre-production airframe was modified to become the YA-10B twin-seat prototype to test an all-weather night capable version. In 2005, a program was started to upgrade remaining A-10A aircraft to the A-10C configuration with modern avionics for use of precision weaponry. With a variety of upgrades and wing replacements, the A-10’s service life may be extended to 2028.
8. Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey
The Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey is an American multi-mission, tiltrotor military aircraft with both vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL), and short takeoff and landing (STOL) capabilities. It is designed to combine the functionality of a conventional helicopter with the long-range, high-speed cruise performance of a turboprop aircraft.
The V-22 originated from the United States Department of Defense Joint-service Vertical take-off/landing Experimental (JVX) aircraft program started in 1981. The team of Bell Helicopter and Boeing Helicopters was awarded a development contract in 1983 for the tiltrotor aircraft. The Bell Boeing team jointly produce the aircraft. The V-22 first flew in 1989, and began flight testing and design alterations; the complexity and difficulties of being the first tiltrotor intended for military service in the world led to many years of development.
The United States Marine Corps began crew training for the Osprey in 2000, and fielded it in 2007; it supplemented and then replaced their Boeing Vertol CH-46 Sea Knights. The Osprey’s other operator, the U.S. Air Force, fielded their version of the tiltrotor in 2009. Since entering service with the U.S. Marine Corps and Air Force, the Osprey has been deployed in transportation and medevac operations over Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Kuwait.
7. Lockheed Martin C-5 Galaxy
The Lockheed C-5 Galaxy is a large military transport aircraft originally designed and built by Lockheed, and now maintained and upgraded by its successor, Lockheed Martin. It provides the United States Air Force (USAF) with a heavy intercontinental-range strategic airlift capability, one that can carry outsize and oversize loads, including all air-certifiable cargo. The Galaxy has many similarities to its smaller Lockheed C-141 Starlifter predecessor, and the later Boeing C-17 Globemaster III. The C-5 is among the largest military aircraft in the world.
The C-5 Galaxy’s development was complicated, including significant cost overruns, and Lockheed suffered significant financial difficulties. Shortly after entering service, cracks in the wings of many aircraft were discovered and the C-5 fleet was restricted in capability until corrective work was completed. The C-5M Super Galaxy is an upgraded version with new engines and modernized avionics designed to extend its service life beyond 2040.
The USAF has operated the C-5 since 1969. In that time, the airlifter supported US military operations in all major conflicts including Vietnam, Iraq, Yugoslavia and Afghanistan, as well as allied support, such asIsrael during the Yom Kippur War and operations in the Gulf War. The Galaxy has also been used to distribute humanitarian aid and disaster relief, and supported the US Space Shuttle program.
6. Lockheed Martin SR-71 Blackbird
The Lockheed SR-71 “Blackbird” is a long-range, Mach 3+ strategic reconnaissance aircraft that was operated by the United States Air Force. It was developed as a black project from the Lockheed A-12reconnaissance aircraft in the 1960s by Lockheed and its Skunk Works division. American aerospace engineer Clarence “Kelly” Johnson was responsible for many of the design’s innovative concepts. During aerial reconnaissance missions, the SR-71 operated at high speeds and altitudes to allow it to outrace threats. If a surface-to-air missile launch was detected, the standard evasive action was simply to accelerate and outfly the missile. The SR-71 was designed with a reduced radar cross-section.
The SR-71 served with the U.S. Air Force from 1964 to 1998. A total of 32 aircraft were built; 12 were lost in accidents and none lost to enemy action. The SR-71 has been given several nicknames, includingBlackbird and Habu. It has held the world record for the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft since 1976; this record was previously held by the related Lockheed YF-12.
The SR-71 was designed for flight at over Mach 3 with a flight crew of two in tandem cockpits, with the pilot in the forward cockpit and the Reconnaissance Systems Officer (RSO) operating the surveillance systems and equipment from the rear cockpit, and directing navigation on the mission flight path. The SR-71 was designed to minimize its radar cross-section, an early attempt at stealth design. Finished aircraft were painted a dark blue, almost black, to increase the emission of internal heat and to act as camouflage against the night sky. The dark color led to the aircraft’s nickname “Blackbird”.
While the SR-71 carried radar countermeasures to evade interception efforts, its greatest protection was its combination of high altitude and very high speed, which made it almost invulnerable. Along with its low radar cross-section, these qualities gave a very short amount of time for an enemy surface-to-air missile (SAM) site to acquire and track the aircraft on radar. By the time the SAM site could track the SR-71, it was often too late to launch a SAM, and the SR-71 would be out of range before the SAM could catch up to it. If the SAM site could track the SR-71 and fire a SAM in time, the SAM would expend nearly all of the delta-v of its boost and sustainer phases just reaching the SR-71’s altitude: at this point, out of thrust, it would go ballistic. Merely accelerating would typically be enough for an SR-71 to evade a SAM; changes by the pilots in the SR-71’s speed, altitude, and heading were also often enough to spoil any radar lock on the plane by SAM sites or enemy fighters. At sustained speeds of more than Mach 3.2, the plane was faster than the Soviet Union’s fastest interceptor, the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25, which however could not reach the SR-71’s altitude. During its service life, no SR-71 was shot down.
5. North American X-43a
The X-43 was an unmanned experimental hypersonic aircraft with multiple planned scale variations meant to test various aspects of hypersonic flight. It was part of the X-plane series and specifically of NASA‘sHyper-X program. It set several airspeed records for jet-propelled aircraft. The X-43 is the fastest aircraft on record at approximately Mach 9.6 (7,310 mph) (11,000 km/h).
A winged booster rocket with the X-43 placed on top, called a “stack”, was drop launched from a larger carrier plane. After the booster rocket (a modified first stage of the Pegasus rocket) brought the stack to the target speed and altitude, it was discarded, and the X-43 flew free using its own engine, a scramjet.
The first plane in the series, the X-43A, was a single-use vehicle. Three of them were built. The first was destroyed after malfunctioning in flight; the other two have successfully flown, with the scramjet operating for approximately 10 seconds, followed by a 10-minute glide and intentional crash into the ocean.
4. Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II
The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is a family of single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth multirole fighters undergoing final development and testing by the United States. The fifth generation combat aircraft is designed to perform ground attack and air defense missions. The F-35 has three main models: the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant, the F-35B short take-off and vertical-landing(STOVL) variant, and the F-35C carrier-based Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) variant. On 31 July 2015, the first squadron was declared ready for deployment after intensive testing by the United States.
The F-35 is descended from the X-35, which was the winning design of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. It is being designed and built by an aerospace industry team led by Lockheed Martin. Other major F-35 industry partners include Northrop Grumman, Pratt & Whitney and BAE Systems. The F-35 took its first flight on 15 December 2006. The United States plans to buy 2,457 aircraft. The F-35 variants are intended to provide the bulk of the manned tactical airpower of the U.S. Air Force, Navy and the Marine Corps over the coming decades. Deliveries of the F-35 for the U.S. military are scheduled to be completed in 2037with a projected service life up to 2070.
F-35 JSF development is being principally funded by the United States with additional funding from partners. The partner nations are either NATO members or close U.S. allies. The United Kingdom, Italy, Australia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Turkey are part of the active development program; several additional countries have ordered, or are considering ordering, the F-35.
The program is the most expensive military weapons system in history, and it has been the object of much criticism from those inside and outside government—in the US and in allied countries. Critics argue that the plane is “plagued with design flaws,” with many blaming the procurement process in which Lockheed was allowed “to design, test, and produce the F-35 all at the same time, instead of … [identifying and fixing] defects before firing up its production line.” By 2014, the program was “$163 billion over budget [and] seven years behind schedule.” Critics further contend that the program’s high sunk costs and political momentum make it “too big to kill.”
3. Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor
The Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor is a fifth-generation, single-seat, twin-engine, all-weather stealth tactical fighter aircraft developed for the United States Air Force (USAF). The result of the USAF’s Advanced Tactical Fighter program, the aircraft was designed primarily as an air superiority fighter, but also has ground attack, electronic warfare, and signals intelligence capabilities. The prime contractor, Lockheed Martin, built most of the F-22’s airframe and weapons systems and did its final assembly, while Boeing provided the wings, aft fuselage, avionics integration, and training systems.
The aircraft was variously designated F-22 and F/A-22 before it formally entered service in December 2005 as the F-22A. After a protracted development and despite operational issues, the USAF considers the F-22 critical to its tactical air power, and says that the aircraft is unmatched by any known or projected fighter. The Raptor’s combination of stealth, aerodynamic performance, and situational awareness gives the aircraft unprecedented air combat capabilities.
The high cost of the aircraft, a lack of clear air-to-air missions due to delays in Russian and Chinese fighter programs, a ban on exports, and development of the more versatile F-35 led to the end of F-22 production.[N 1] A final procurement tally of 187 operational production aircraft was established in 2009 and the last F-22 was delivered to the USAF in 2012.
2. Northrup Grumman B-2 Spirit
he Northrop (later Northrop Grumman) B-2 Spirit, also known as the Stealth Bomber, is an American heavy penetration strategic bomber, featuring low observable stealth technology designed for penetrating dense anti-aircraft defenses; it is a flying wing design with a crew of two. The bomber can deploy both conventional and thermonuclear weapons, such as eighty 500 lb (230 kg)-class (Mk 82) JDAM Global Positioning System-guided bombs, or sixteen 2,400 lb (1,100 kg) B83 nuclear bombs. The B-2 is the only acknowledged aircraft that can carry large air-to-surface standoff weapons in a stealth configuration.
Development originally started under the “Advanced Technology Bomber” (ATB) project during the Carter administration; its expected performance was one of his reasons for the cancellation of the supersonic B-1A bomber. The ATB project continued during the Reagan administration, but worries about delays in its introduction led to the reinstatement of the B-1 program as well. Program costs rose throughout development. Designed and manufactured by Northrop, later Northrop Grumman, the cost of each aircraft averaged US$737 million (in 1997 dollars). Total procurement costs averaged $929 million per aircraft, which includes spare parts, equipment, retrofitting, and software support. The total program cost including development, engineering and testing, averaged $2.1 billion per aircraft in 1997.
Because of its considerable capital and operating costs, the project was controversial in the U.S. Congress and among the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The winding-down of the Cold War in the latter portion of the 1980s dramatically reduced the need for the aircraft, which was designed with the intention of penetrating Soviet airspace and attacking high-value targets. During the late 1980s and 1990s, Congress slashed plans to purchase 132 bombers to 21. In 2008, a B-2 was destroyed in a crash shortly after takeoff, though the crew ejected safely. A total of 20 B-2s remain in service with the United States Air Force, which plans to operate the B-2 until 2058.
The B-2 is capable of all-altitude attack missions up to 50,000 feet (15,000 m), with a range of more than 6,000 nautical miles (6,900 mi; 11,000 km) on internal fuel and over 10,000 nautical miles (12,000 mi; 19,000 km) with one midair refueling. It entered service in 1997 as the second aircraft designed to have advanced stealth technology after the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk attack aircraft. Though designed originally as primarily a nuclear bomber, the B-2 was first used in combat, dropping conventional, non-nuclear ordnance in the Kosovo War in 1999. It later served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
1. North American X-15
The North American X-15 was a hypersonic rocket-powered aircraft operated by the United States Air Force and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as part of the X-plane series of experimental aircraft. The X-15 set speed and altitude records in the 1960s, reaching the edge of outer space and returning with valuable data used in aircraft and spacecraft design. As of September 2015, the X-15 holds theofficial world record for the highest speed ever recorded by a manned, powered aircraft. It could reach a top speed of 4,520 miles per hour (7,274 km/h), or Mach 6.72.
During the X-15 program, 13 flights by eight pilots met the Air Force spaceflight criterion by exceeding the altitude of 50 miles (80 km), thus qualifying these pilots as being astronauts. The Air Force pilots qualified for astronaut wings immediately, while the civilian pilots were eventually awarded NASA astronaut wings in 2005, 35 years after the last X-15 flight. The only Navy pilot in the X-15 program never took the aircraft above the requisite 50 mile altitude and so as a result, never earned himself astronaut wings.
Of the 199 X-15 missions, two flights (by the same pilot) qualified as true space flights per the international (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale) definition of a spaceflight by exceeding 100 kilometers (62.1 mi) in altitude.