The whole world was engulfed in the Great Depression commencing from 1929 till the late 1930s and America was one of the worst-hit countries. And ever since it started providing military supplies including aircraft, tanks, warheads, and weaponry to its allies under the Lend-Lease Contract, America has always been the most technologically advanced nation. There would be no exaggeration in saying that the USA rules the sky with its mightiest human-made aerial beasts.
We have already discussed the top four American war aircraft in our previous article, 9 Deadliest Fighter Aircraft that Rule the Sky . Here is a list of some other prominent members of the US Air Force’s aerial fleet.
1. B-2 Spirit
With a gargantuan sticker price of $2 billion, the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit bomber is the most advanced in the US Air Force. It was developed in the 1980s to carry and deploy nuclear bombs deep into Soviet territory during the Cold War, in the event of military escalation.
Northrop Grumman has developed a radar-absorbent coating, sprayed on by four independently controlled robots, to preserve the B-2’s stealth characteristics while drastically reducing maintenance time. The delicate skin of the plane, which provides additional stealth, needs to be stored at a cold temperature, requiring air-conditioned hangars that contribute to the high operating costs reaching up to $43 per month for a single aircraft. A total of 21 planes have been built, with 20 in operational roles.
The B-2 can reach a high subsonic speed and can also get an altitude of more than 50,000 feet. The B-2 can travel 6,000 nautical miles without refuelling and 10,000 nautical miles with only one refuelling. It can reach any point in the world within hours. The B2 is very quiet, and one can only hear it once it’s passed overhead. It can carry up to 40,000lb of weapons, including conventional and nuclear weapons, precision-guided munitions, gravity bombs, and a range of maritime weapons. While there has been no loss of a single B-2 in combat, the plane doesn’t even have defensive weapons. Quite recently, the US military’s Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) has deployed three B-2 aircraft in the Indian Ocean since 2016.
2. B-1 Lancer
Serving the United States Air Force since 1985, the Boeing B-1 Lancer was initially designed for nuclear capabilities, but it has switched to an exclusively conventional combat role in the mid-1990s. It has low radar cross-section, variable-geometry wings, modern avionics, and afterburning engines enabling the B-1 to carry the most massive payload strike of any current bomber. It is a long-range, manoeuvrable, high speed and survivable, multi-mission, supersonic conventional, and heavy bomber. Nicknamed as The Bone (B-One), it has a whopping per unit cost of US$ 415 million. Around 100 BOnes have been built till now.
A crew of four operates the aircraft: pilot, co-pilot, defensive systems operator (DSO), and offensive systems operator (OSO). It has three internal weapon bays and six external hardpoints under the fuselage. The maximum internal weapons payload is 75,000lb, and maximum external weapons payload is 59,000lbs. In March 2008, the B-1B became the first aircraft to fly at supersonic speed using synthetic fuel. At current demanding operations tempo, it is forecasted the ‘BOne’ is on track to continue flying out to 2040 and beyond.
3. F-15 Eagle
The McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle is an American single-seat, twin-engine, all-weather tactical fighter aircraft. The F-15 Eagle has been the US Air Force’s primary fighter jet aircraft and intercepts platform for decades. A mixture of unprecedented manoeuvrability and acceleration, range, weapons, and avionics leads to achieving the Eagle’s air superiority. It can penetrate enemy defence and outperform and outfight any current enemy aircraft.
The F-15 has electronic systems and weaponry to detect, acquire, track, and attack enemy aircraft while operating in friendly or enemy-controlled airspace. The weapons and flight control systems are designed so one person can safely and effectively perform air-to-air combat. It has a combat range of 1221 miles can reach up to a maximum speed of Mach 2.5 at high altitude. For low-altitude, high-speed penetration and precision attack on tactical targets at night or in adverse weather, the F-15E carries a high-resolution APG-70 radar and low-altitude navigation and targeting infrared for night pods.
4. F-16 Fighting Falcon
With over 1,000 F-16s in service, it is one of the most versatile aircraft in the US Air Force inventory and completed a number of missions, including air-to-air fighting, ground attack, and electronic warfare. Approximately 3,000 operational F-16s are in service today in 25 countries including Israel, Turkey, Egypt, Pakistan, and others.
In an air combat role, the F-16’s manoeuvrability and combat radius, i.e., the distance it can fly to enter air combat, stay, fight, and return, exceed that of all potential threat fighter aircraft. It can locate targets in all weather conditions and detect low flying aircraft in radar ground clutter. In an air-to-surface role, the F-16 fighting falcon can fly more than 500 miles, deliver its weapons with superior accuracy, defend itself against enemy aircraft, and return to its starting point. An all-weather capability allows it to accurately deliver ordnance during non-visual bombing conditions. With a full load of internal fuel, the F-16 can withstand up to nine G’s – nine times the force of gravity – which exceeds the capability of other current fighter aircraft.
5. A 10 Thunderbolt II
The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II often referred to as “Warthog” or “Hog”, is a single-seat, twin turbofan, straight wing jet aircraft. The A-10 Thunderbolt II is the US Air Force’s primary low-altitude close air support aircraft. It has excellent manoeuvrability at low airspeeds and altitude and is a highly accurate and survivable weapons-delivery platform.
The aircraft is armed with a General Dynamics GAU-8/A Avenger 30mm cannon, mounted in the nose of the aircraft. Using the cannon, the A-10 is capable of disabling the main battle tank from a range of over 6,500m. The pilot can select a firing rate of 2,100 or 4,200 rounds a minute.
Thunderbolt IIs have Night Vision Imaging Systems, or NVIS, goggle compatible single-seat cockpits forward of their wings and a large bubble canopy which provides pilots all-around vision. The aircraft can survive direct hits from armour-piercing and high explosive projectiles up to 23mm. Their self-sealing fuel cells are protected by internal and external foam. Manual systems back up their redundant hydraulic flight-control systems, which permits pilots to fly and land when hydraulic power is lost.
6. B-52 Stratofortress
The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, also known as the Buff (big ugly fat fellow), is an American long-range, subsonic, jet-powered, large-payload multi-role strategic bomber. The bomber is capable of carrying up to 70,000 pounds of weapons and has a typical combat range of more than 8,800 miles without aerial refuelling.
It is the USAF’s principal strategic nuclear and conventional weapons platform that supports the US Navy in anti-surface and submarine warfare missions.
The B-52H is a huge aircraft, with a length of 159ft 4in and take-off weight of 488,000lb. Two B-52s, in two hours, can monitor 140,000 square miles of the ocean surface. Pilots wear night-vision goggles to enhance their vision during night operations. Night vision goggles provide more excellent safety during night operations by increasing the pilot’s ability to visually apparent terrain, avoid enemy radar, and see other aircraft in a lights-out environment. It is the longest-serving combat aircraft in the world, and the US Air Force engineering studies suggest that the lifespan of the B-52 could extend beyond 2040.
7. Lockheed AC 130
The Lockheed AC-130 gunship, capable of carrying 13 crew, is a heavily armed, long-endurance, ground-attack aircraft descended from the C-130 Hercules transport, fixed-wing plane. Unlike other modern military fixed-wing aircraft, the AC-130 relies on visual targeting. Since its extensive profile and low operating altitudes of approximately 7,000 feet (2,100 m) make it an easy target, its close air support missions are usually flown at night. Close-air-support roles include supporting ground troops, escorting convoys, and urban operations.
Although the aircraft has been kept relevant through constant upgrades to their weaponry, sensor packages, and counter-measures, they are not expected to be survivable in future non-permissive environments due to their high signatures and low airspeeds. The aircraft is also named as the “Angel of Death”. Watch this video to know why.
China is a powerful country today, and it’s trying to build its own air crafts. We have covered in detail about the Chinese aircrafts here Detailed List Of War Aircrafts Developed By China.