Aircrafts of the USAF

The US Air Force is known across the world for its superior air power dominance.  What is it that sets the USAF apart from other Air Forces? It comes down to  technology, practice (war games) and skill.

The USAF’s air fleet consists of custom-made airframes that enable them to carry out and complete different missions effectively. Of course the aircrafts need a pilot to navigate, operate and maneuver them in order to ensure successful completion of each operation assigned to them.  

Here’s a list of some of the mean machines that make up a part of the total USAF fleet.

B-52 Stratofortress

The Stratofortress is a long-range bomber aircraft.  It has been in use since the 1950s and was one of the primary vehicles used during the war in Vietnam. The B52s have since been outfitted with the latest technical military advances so that it can continue Its mission in executing the extensive range of tasks it has always been capable of taking on. In times of conflicts, the B-52 serves the USAF for strategic attacks, close air support, maritime and counter-air missions, and surveillance and its ability to fly up to 80,000 feet makes it invulnerable to many of today’s ground to air missiles.

B-2 Spirit

The next generation of bomber. The stealth bomber B-2 Spirit has the ability to carry both nuclear and conventional armaments on board.

B-1B Lancer

The bomber B-1B Lancer currently forms the backbone of the USAF’s combat fleet. It is capable of carrying out multiple missions with large quantities of weaponry that includes both non-precision and precision weapons. The aircraft boasts the largest payload capacity in the USAF fleet.

F-15

The highly maneuverable F-15 fighter is designed for greater air dominance in air-to-air combat. The upgraded F-15E variation comes with the additional capability of executing air-to-ground combat missions with exceptional precision.

F-16 Fighting Falcon

Most of you might be familiar with this one already. The multi-purpose F-16 aircrafts are used by the USAF for both air-to-ground and air-to-air combat. These solid machines are compact and offer greater maneuverability for missions.

F-22 Raptor

This  is the only combat ready fighter jet belonging to the fifth-generation. It is the most recently employed aircraft in the USAF. The fighter offers stealth combined with advanced avionics, exceptional maneuverability, and supercruise mode for unmatched aerial supremacy.

HH-60G Pave Hawk

The HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter is used for operations involving personnel recovery from hostile territories. It is also used for humanitarian assistance, disaster response, and search and rescue ops.

HC-130

The HC-130 aircraft and its variants are serving the USAF as personnel recovery platforms. They are primarily used for evacuations and disaster response. This particular aircraft can operate and land on a diverse assortment of airfields.

MC-130

This aircraft provides mid-air support, refueling, resupply, exfiltration, and infiltration for the special-operations forces. The aircraft is also used for carrying out secondary psychological missions, like air dropping leaflets to influence emotions and behaviors of particular groups of individuals.

T-6A Texan II

This aircraft is the basic trainer aircraft serving the USAF. The T-6A Texan II is used to provide primary flying skills, knowledge, and training to the US Navy and Air Force pilots.

T-38 Talon

The T-38 Talon too, is a USAF training jet. Its basic purpose is to train pilots for high-altitude supersonic flying missions. These missions are usually carried out by the A-10, B-1B, F-15E, and F-22 aircrafts.

U-2S/TU-2S

This beauty is used for high-altitude reconnaissance and surveillance. The aircraft is capable of operating in all sorts of environmental and weather conditions. The U-2S/TU-2S plane is designed to capture HD photographic imagery and monitor for signals intelligence.

We bet you’re far more learned about the USAF than you were before you read this post. Currently the USAF uses 39 distinct aircrafts for its operations. Each aircraft and its variations serve a specific purpose. Without these aircrafts it’s safe to say that the USAF is incomplete.

Lockeed AC-130 Gunship

The Lockheed AC-130 gunship is a powerhouse of munitions. It is a long-endurance ground-attack variant of the C-130 Hercules aircraft, of which one can envision the size of such a fighting machine.

It is used mostly as air support to assist troops on the ground. Such is the case with the Kurd takeover of Mosul, Iraq from ISIS. The Kurds supplied the ground forces and under U.S. cover, were able to liberate the city. Needless to say, the air support were mainly AC-130 gun ships. The AC-130 was also used frequently during the Vietnam War.

The AC-130 is a propeller driven aircraft that carries a wide array of anti-ground weapons. The AC-130 (and its variants) can carry a 25 mm GAU-12 Equalizer, one Bofors 40 mm autocannon and one 105 mm M102 cannon. Together, with its sophisticated sensors, navigation, and fire control systems, it is an awesome fighting machine that can strike hard at enemy ground forces, allowing allied troops to advance.

Flying at just 7,000 feet, the AC-130 does not use GPS or coordinate tracking to attack their target; rather, the plane relies solely on spotting the enemy visually.

One might wonder how an aircraft that flies so close to the ground can maneuver without being attacked. One of the answers is the use of ‘Angel Flares’. These are high intensity flares used to repel heat seeking missiles. A pattern forms that allows the flares to act as decoys.

AC-130 Gunship
‘Angel Flares’ used as a defensive measure to ward off incoming missiles

The armament is as follows for the AC-130 Gunship and its variants:

AC-130A Project Gunship II

  • 4 × 7.62 mm GAU-2/A miniguns
  • 4 × 20 mm (0.787 in) M61 Vulcan 6-barrel Gatling cannon

AC-130A Surprise Package, Pave Pronto, AC-130E Pave Spectre

  • 2× 7.62 mm GAU-2/A miniguns
  • 2× 20 mm M61 Vulcan cannon
  • 2× 40 mm (1.58 in) L/60 Bofors cannon

AC-130E Pave Aegis

  • 2× 20 mm M61 Vulcan cannon
  • 1× 40 mm (1.58 in) L/60 Bofors cannon
  • 1× 105 mm (4.13 in) M102 howitzer

AC-130H Spectre

  • 1× 40 mm (1.58 in) L/60 Bofors cannon
  • 1× 105 mm (4.13 in) M102 howitzer

AC-130U Spooky II

  • General Dynamics 25 mm (0.984 in) GAU-12/U Equalizer 5-barreled Gatling cannon
  • 1× 40 mm (1.58 in) L/60 Bofors cannon
  • 1× 105 mm (4.13 in) M102 howitzer

AC-130W Stinger II / AC-130J Ghostrider

  • 1x 30 mm ATK GAU-23/A autocannon
  • 1x 105 mm M102 Howitzer (AC-130J Ghostrider only, fired out the back of the aircraft via a modified rear ramp.)
  • ‘Gunslinger’ weapons system with launch tube for AGM-176 Griffin missiles and/or GBU-44/B Viper Strike munitions (10 round magazines)

Wing mounted, AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs (SDBs) and/or GBU-53/B SDB IIs[4] (4 per hardpoint on BRU-61/A rack)

This video shows the AC-130 Spectre Gunship in action over Afghanistan in 2014

AGM-65 Maverick

The AGM-65 Maverick is a precision attack air to ground missile used in the US Air Force, the US Marine Corps and more than 33 countries.

AGM-65 Maverick Air to Ground Missile
AGM-65 Maverick

This missile played a crucial role in the Vietnam War, Iran-Iraq, and the Persian Gulf Wars. The Persian Gulf War began with a massive US-led air offensive known as Operation Desert Storm. About 5,000 AGM-65 missiles of different variants were used to attack the armored targets of the Iraqi military.

The start of the development of the Maverick started in 1966 and took about six year to complete. The missile was originally designed to replace the aging radio guided AGM-12 Bullpup missiles that were first launched in 1959. The Maverick was deployed for the first time in 1972, also replacing the AGM-62 Walleye in the 70s.

Raytheon Systems (then called Hughes Missile Systems) won a contract worth $95 million from the US  Air Force to produce 17,000 Mavericks in 1968. The AGM-65 A variant was developed with an electro-optical television guidance system. An improved version, AGM-65B, was developed next.

In 1983, version AGM-65D was developed and delivered to the US Air Force. This type contains an imaging infrared seeker. Subsequently, G, E, and F models were also produced. Currently, the Maverick H and K are the most modern missiles being produced by Raytheon with an AGM-65L under development which will contain a digital semi-active seeker.

The Maverick is one of the first fire-and-forget missiles, following the path to its targets autonomously. It also shares the same configurations as the AIM-4 Falcon and AIM-54 Phoenix. The missile also carries two types of warheads, a heavyweight warhead that penetrates targets before detonating, and a shaped charge warhead with a contact fuze in the nose.  

The missile system is compatible with 25 jet fighter aircraft, including the F-16 and A-10 and they have been exported to countries worldwide including Australia, Japan, Israel, Poland, Sweden, South Korea, and more.

SR-71 Blackbird

SR-71
SR-71 Blackbird of the Skies

If there was one plane that stood out from the others and had been the incentive for the future of military aircraft, it is the SR-71 Blackbird.

This spectacular aircraft was a cousin to the YF12A prototype interceptor to replace the older F-106 Delta Dart. Initially, the Air Force contracted North American to develop its next generation plane, the F-108. A mach-3 aircraft that never left the ground, due to cancellation in 1959.

Lockheed YF-12A
Lockheed_YF-12A

The Air Force instead embarked on Lockheed’s Skunk Works program, (Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Project) to build its next generation plane, where work was currently underway developing a top secret spy plane called the A-12.

The head of Skunk Works, Kelly Johnson agreed to build a fighter aircraft for the Air Force by modifying the A-12 version. It was labeled AF-12 and the USAF purchased three of them in the mid 1960s.

The primary difference between the A-12 and the AF-12 was by modifying the A-12’s nose by removing the chines in order to accommodate the Hughes AN/ASG-18 fire-control radar, which was originally developed for the XF-108.

In addition, a second cockpit for a crew member to operate the fire control radar for the air-to-air missile system was developed. These modifications resulted in a major change in the aircraft’s overall design from the specifications of the XF-108.

Specifically, its aerodynamics required ventral fins to be mounted under the fuselage and engine nacelles to maintain stability. The four bays previously used to house the A-12’s reconnaissance equipment were converted to carry the Hughes AIM-47 Falcon (GAR-9) missiles, with one bay used for fire control equipment; hence, the futuristic design of the Blackbird was materializing.

Enter the YF-12A. A prototype fighter that was an offset of the A-12. It had its first flying mission on August 7th, 1963. The aircraft was kept top secret until President Johnson announced its existence on February 24th, 1964. The YF-12A was cleverly announced to continue keeping the existence of the A-1, which was still in the pre-production phase a secret.

Some of the sightings of the A-12 from the top secret Area 51 was attributed to the YF-12A to camouflage the A-12’s secret as it flew in the area.

The YF-12A continued in its development; however, due to accidents and malfunctions, the three YF-12A aircrafts that were built, two were destroyed and the third was sent to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio on 17 November 1979.

Publicity of the YF-12A was kept intact in order to keep the CIA top secret A-12 variant (the SR-71) from becoming public.

The SR-71 Aircraft
The SR-71 under NASA testing

The SR-71 maintained such advanced technology, it became the precursor to the stealth aircraft we see today and instead of it being an interceptor, it was used for aerial reconnaissance missions. It  operated at such high speeds (mach-3) and altitudes (80,000 feet), it would actually be able to evade incoming anti-aircraft missiles by just flying faster. It was known to fly faster than a bullet.

In addition, the SR-71 was designed with basic stealth technology, which served as the forerunner to future stealth aircraft, such as the B-17 and B-2 stealth bomber.

Much of the SR-71’s history is still kept secret, especially its stealth technology, but in 1974, during the Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur war, an aircraft was seen over the skies of Egypt flying faster and higher than any other known aircraft and this aircraft was the SR-71.

The plane served the Air Force from 1964 to 1998. A total of 32 were built. 12 were lost in accidents, but with none lost in any war..

The SR-71 has held the world record for the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft since 1976, which was previously held by its YF-12A cousin.

The elegant design of the SR-71 is magnificent, but it is the sophistication of this aircraft that, to this day, a machine of the future and we are dedicated to Lockheed and the United States Air Force for their ingenuity and foresight in designing a plane of such magnitude.

 

B-36 Peacemaker

This huge piston driven airplane, dubbed “Peacemaker” has broken more records than any other aircraft. Not so much in its performance, but in its physical characteristics.

The Convair B-36 was a Cold War strategic bomber built by Convair and operated by the United States Air Force (USAF) from 1949 to 1959.

B-36 Bomber
B-36 Peacemaker Bomber

The B-36 used a piston engine, also called reciprocating engine, which is identical to the characteristics of a car engine and was the largest of its type to ever be constructed. The B-36’s wingspan was 230 feet, which was the longest wingspan of any combat aircraft.

This aircraft was the first bomber capable of delivering nuclear weapons and was incorporated in SAC. It had a range of 10,000 miles and was able to carry a maximum payload of 72,000 lbs.

It was also the world’s first manned bomber with an unrefueled intercontinental range.

The B-36 aircraft was decommissioned in 1959, however, the Peacemaker was the inspiration for long range and payload standards that set the stage for the newer fleet of intercontinental bombers, such as the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, which used jet powered engines.

View the B-36 up close

B1 Lancer

Although not as well known as the popular stealth B-2 bomber, the B-1B Lancer, which has served the United States Air Force since 1985 has been nicknamed “The Bone”.

The Lancer is a is a swing-wing bomber intended for high-speed, low-altitude penetration missions. It has a very long-range capability and can carry multi-mission bombing runs,. Originally designed to carry nuclear ornaments as well,, the plane was switched to a conventional combat aircraft in the mid 1990’s and in 1999, during Operation Allied Force, six B-1s flew 2 percent of the strike missions, yet dropped 20 percent of the ordnance. The B-1 has been used extensively in combat operations over Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001.

The Lancer has extreme long range capability and can carry a variety of up to 75,000 lbs of arms worldwide.

B-1B Lance
B-1B Lancer flies over the Pacific Ocean

Initial delivery was to the Strategic Air Command (SAC) in June 1985, at Dyess AFB, Texas. By November 1986, B-1Bs were coming off the production line at a rate of four per month. B-1Bs were based at Dyess AFB, Texas; Ellsworth AFB, S.D.; McConnell AFB, Kan.; Robins AFB, Ga.; and Mountain Home AFB, Idaho.

The B-1B is a world records for speed, with 61 awards. The National Aeronautic Association recognized the B-1B for completing one of the 10 most memorable record flights for 1994.

The first combat use of the B-1B was in December 1998 during operation Desert Fox, where the aircraft penetrated Iraqi air defenses to destroy Republican Guard barracks. This debut mission validated the B-1B’s conventional role and its ability to operate in a force package. In 1999, six B-1Bs were deployed to Royal Air Force Base Fairford, England, to support Operation Allied Force in Kosovo. Those six aircraft dropped more than 20 percent of the total tonnage in the conflict. In operation Enduring Freedom, B-1Bs dropped 40 percent of the weapons and 70 percent of the precision-guided JDAM weapons.

B-1B Lancer Technical Specifications

Function Long-range, multi-role, heavy bomber
Power plant Four General Electric F101-GE-102 turbofan engine with afterburner
Thrust 30,000-plus pounds with afterburner, per engine
Wingspan 137 ft (41.8 m) extended forward, 79 ft (24.1 m) swept aft
Length 146 ft (44.5 meters)
Height 34 ft (10.4 meters)
Weight Approximately 190,000 lbs (86,183 kg)
Max Takeoff Weight 477,000 lbs (216,634 kg)
Fuel Capacity 265,274 lbs (120,326 kg)
Payload 75,000 lbs internal (34,019 kg), 50,000 lbs (22,679 kg)
Speed 900-plus mph (Mach 1.2 at sea level)
Range Intercontinental
Ceiling More than 30,000 ft (9,144 m)
Crew 4 (aircraft commander, copilot, and two weapon systems officers)
Inventory 66

AIM-9 Sidewinder Missile

One of the oldest, yet most effective short range weapons in air to air combat is the AIM-9 Sidewinder Missile.

After World War II, the most popular missile guidance system was radar. This was expensive to build and required manned operation to help guide the missile to its intended target. Then in 1947, a Naval physicist named Bill McLean began researching and developing a new type of system that would not utilize radar. Instead, it would search for the infrared signature of the aircraft using infrared (heat seeking) technology. This was not only more precise than radar but weighed much less as well.

Initially, the Sidewinder guidance system was equipped with vacuum tubes that were used to form the guidance computer, but with the advent of semiconductors, vacuum tubes were replaced with the actual program embedded within the semiconductor chip.

AIM Sidewinder Missile
A U.S. Navy McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A Hornet firing an AIM-9R Sidewinder missile at China Lake, California (USA), 5 April 1991. USAF Public Domain.

The AIM-9 weighs 188 lbs and is 9 feet, 11 inches long and uses a WDU-17/B warhead.

In general, a missile of this type requires nine major components:

  • The rocket motor, which provides the thrust to propel the missile through the air
  • The rear stabilizing wings, which provide the necessary lift to keep the missile aloft
  • The seeker, which sees the infrared light from the target
  • The guidance control electronics, which process the information from the seeker and calculate the proper course for the missile
  • The control actuation section, which adjusts flight fins near the nose of the missile based on instructions from the guidance electronics
  • The flight fins themselves, which steer the missiles through the air — just like the flaps on an airplane wing, the moving flight fins generate drag (increase wind resistance) on one side of the missile, causing it to turn in that direction.
  • The warhead, the explosive device that actually destroys the enemy aircraft
  • A fuze system that sets the warhead off when the missile reaches the target
  • A battery to provide power to the onboard electronics

Needless to say, the Sidewinder missile has certainly shown its capability as it has been in existence  from 1956 to present day.

Titan II Missile

The Titan family of rockets were used between 1959 and 2003. There were two main categories of Titan rockets. Those used in a passive role by NASA for spaceflight and those used by the US Air Force as defense against Soviet aggression.

In this article, we will focus on the Titan missile used for defensive deterrent, which was in use from 1963 to 1987.

Titan II Missile
There were 54 Titan II Missiles located throughout the US (Public Domain)

The Titan II was a powerful two stage, 103 feet tall intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM),w with 170 tons when loaded with fuel. There were 54 missiles in all, strategically located in bomb proof silos across the central United States; specifically, Arkansas, Kansas, and Arizona.

These awesome machines were designed to launch in just 58 seconds, as time was of the essence in the event of a surprise attack. Each of these ICBMs were nuclear tipped with a 9-megaton nuclear warhead and were able to travel to targets over 6300 miles away within a time span of just 30 minutes.

The facility that contained and controlled the Titan II was about 90% underground, so only the top level was seen from the ground, giving the appearance that it was nothing more than a farm of small government office. Recall that all these missile facilities were top secret during the Cold War.

The Air Force had squadrons  – an array of missile sites within a designated location. For example, the 34th squadron contained nine missile sites within the Little Rock, Arkansas area.

Nine was not the exceptional number, as each Titan II squadron across the midwest consisted of nine launch facilities, each housing a single missile and each a distance of seven miles from the other. Each silo was directly connected to an underground launch control unit, manned by a round the clock combat crew of two officers and two airman. The Air Force deployed six squadrons of Titan II missiles facilities. To save money, the squadrons were grouped in pairs, controlled by one operational base.

As with the B-52s, these missile facilities were under the management of SAC and provided the additional deterrent to supplement the B-52 bombers.

Fortunately, these missiles never had to be used and after the Cold War ended, the facilities have been removed; however, there is one still standing, but not active. That is the Titan II Missile Museum near Tucson, Arizona.

F-35 vs F16

In a joint test project that involved dog fights between the new F-35 and two F-16Ds, as well as close-range combat maneuvers, the results were somewhat surprising.

According to a report by the pilot “Even with the limited F-16 target configuration, the F-35A remained at a distinct energy disadvantage for every engagement.”, indicating that the F-35A was no match for the F-16s.

During the test flights, the F-35A was constantly flying slower and running more sluggish, which subsequently made it unable to effectively maneuver to get the F-16 in its sights.

The report also stated that the new, hyped 21st century high-tech helmet was “… too large for the space inside the canopy to adequately see behind the aircraft,”, which then made it impossible to keep constant visual contact with the F-16 during the fight.

November of 2014, F-16 co-designer Pierre Sprey concluded that the F-35 “inherently a terrible plane, because it’s built based on a dumb idea’, according to a report by CBC’s The The Fifth Estate. He said “You’ve compromised the aircraft horribly for three different missions, and then you’ve compromised it again for three different services.” It was “astonishingly unmaneuverable” because of its ratio of wing surface to weight. “In dogfighting, it’s hopeless.”

Although some other experts dispute Sprey’s comments, the F-35 test pilot seemed to agree with his comments.

Although hundreds of millions of dollars have already been spent on the F-35, maybe we should pause its development, review the test data from this and other test projects and determine the next course of action.

It may be prudent to provide a report on the new technology that was developed for the F-35, including the helmet and refine them. Then consider developing a specific set of new aircraft plans that do not include multilevel design, and then incorporate each of these new technologies into three separate new fighter planes (fighter, bomber, etc.).

This way, we will have more efficient aircraft that would incorporate all the new 21st century technologies, yet optimized for one specific purpose for each plane of their required categories.

Nike Missile System

In the later part of World War II, German technological advancements in jet plane production was moving from the planning stages to the development stages. In view of this, anti-aircraft guns were strategically placed around the major cities of the United States in order to combat this potential threat.

After the war, the defensive posture of the United States took on an even more significant role; notably, the Cold War. The Soviet Union’s military technology was a direct match with American ingenuity, but this time, rockets and missile technology took a giant leap forward. The fear of Soviet aggression, via Russian Bear Bombers entering American airspace was much more real than German or Japanese aircraft attacking the US mainland in World War II.

The gun batteries that were initially set up across the United States were replaced with Nike Missile batteries, beginning in 1954. These were supersonic (Marc 2.25), command guidance system, solid rocket booster missiles, called Ajax (Nike Ajax). They were designed to intercept long range Soviet bombers and destroy them while still over the ocean.

Nike Ajax Missile
Nike Ajax. Photo taken from the American Air Power Museum, Long Island, NY

Soldiers who were stationed at these Nike sites were on 24 hour turnaround shifts and lived in ready barracks. Examples of Nike Missile battery sites were Fort Tilden and Fort Hancock, New York, which had a  Missile Launch Area (the radar area), AKA, the Integrated Fire Control Area (IFC). The sites had two missile batteries, known as double battery sites, and subsequently, each battery had two underground storage rooms for a total of four magazines at each site. A missile magazine is the hardened storage barrier where the missile lies when inactive. Rooms accompanied the magazines and each had an elevator unit that raised and lowered the missiles.

The Ajax was the first Nike Missile deployed. It was designed to destroy aircraft from 30 miles away. By 1958, a new, more advanced Nike rocket replaced the Ajax, called the Hercules, which had a range of over 96 miles and was designed to carry a nuclear warhead.

Nike Missiles
Nike Missile Family. Hercules on far left. Ajax on far right. US Army photo. Public Domain

The difference between the Ajax and the Hercules when in the air was that the Ajax was designed to hit one bomber, called One missile, One Hit. The Hercules was nuclear tiped, so that one missile can disable or destroy a fleet of bombers by detonating their nuclear charge up to 1000 feet above them and disintegrating everything below. The missiles were designed to target these planes when over the ocean.

Unbeknownst to the general public, there were close to 250 Nike missile bases situated across the United States, as well as more located in Europe. The New York City area contained one of the largest network of antiaircraft Nike batteries, with over 20 sites that circled the city, both in New York State and New Jersey.

Nike missiles were part of the U.S. Army Air Defense Command (ARADCOM), and in agreement with the SALT treaty, all missiles were decommissioned and removed in 1974; however, a few inactive sites remain. The Sandy Hook, New Jersey, (NY-56) site is one of of those Nike missile batteries and is currently open to the public.

Nike Ajax Missile Battery
Nike Ajax Missile Battery at Sandy Hook, New Jersey
Nike Hercules Missile Battery
Nike Hercules Missile Battery, Sandy Hook, New Jersey

The removal of the Nike Missiles was not the end of missile deployment. It was actually only the beginning. After the Nikes were removed, in comes a new, much more powerful rocket – the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile or ICBM. They were deployed on both sides of the Atlantic, as the cold war still existed and continued to intensify.

This video from the 1950s is a fascinating look not just how the missles were set up for US defense, but also how these film clips were shown at that time.