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Portal:United States Air Force/Vehicle Spotlight/1
The F-4 Phantom II is a two-seat supersonic long-range all-weather fighter-bomber originally developed for the U.S. Navy by McDonnell Douglas as the Navy's first modern fleet defense fighter, but by 1963, the aircraft had been adopted by the U.S. Air Force for the fighter-bomber role. The Phantom flew in numerous variants in US service from 1960 to 1996; it also served with the armed forces of 11 other nations. When production ended in 1981, 1,195 Phantom IIs had been built, making it the most numerous American supersonic military aircraft. As of 2001, more than 1,000 F-4s remained in service around the world.
Shortly after its introduction, the Phantom set 16 world records, including an absolute speed record of 1,606.342 miles per hour (2,585.086 km/h), and an absolute altitude record of 98,557 feet (30,040 m). Although set in 1959-1962, five of the speed records were not broken until 1975. Until the advent of the F-15 Eagle, the F-4 also held the record for the longest continuous production with a run of 24 straight years.
The F-4 Phantom II was also the only aircraft used by both of the USA’s
flight demonstration teams. The U.S.A.F. USAF Thunderbirds
(F-4E) and the USN Blue Angels
(F-4J) both switched to the Phantom for the 1969 season; the Thunderbirds flew it for five seasons, the Blue Angels for six.
Portal:United States Air Force/Vehicle Spotlight/2
The Republic Aviation Company F-84 Thunderjet was an American-built turbojet fighter-bomber aircraft. Originating as a 1944 United States Air Force proposal for a daytime fighter, the F-84 flew in 1946. Although it entered service in 1947, the Thunderjet was plagued by so many structural and engine problems that a 1948 Air Force review declared it unable to execute any aspect of its intended mission and considered cancelling the program. The aircraft was not considered fully operational until the 1949 F-84D model and the design matured only with the definitive F-84G introduced in 1951. In 1954, the straight-wing Thunderjet was joined by the swept-wing F-84F Thunderstreak fighter and RF-84F Thunderflash photo reconnaissance aircraft.
The Strategic Air Command had F-84 Thunderjets (F-84s and RF-84s) in service from 1948 through 1957.
The Thunderjet became the Air Force's primary strike aircraft during the Korean War, flying 86,408 missions, dropping 111,171,000 pounds (50,427 tons) of bombs and 12,258,000 pounds (5,560 tons) of napalm, and destroying 60% of all ground targets in the war as well as eight Soviet-built MiG fighters. Over half of the 7,524 F-84s produced served with NATO nations.
The F-84 was the first aircraft to fly with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds
demonstration team, the first production fighter aircraft to utilize in-flight refueling, and the first single-seat fighter capable of carrying a nuclear bomb.
Portal:United States Air Force/Vehicle Spotlight/3
The Lockheed F-94 was the United States Air Force's first operational jet-powered all-weather interceptor aircraft.
Built to a 1948 USAF specification for a radar equipped interceptor to replace the aging Northrop F-61 Black Widow and North American F-82 Twin Mustang, and specifically designed to counter the threat of the USSR's new Tupolev Tu-4 bombers. The F-94 was derived from the TF-80C (later T-33 Shooting Star) two-seat trainer version of the F-80 Shooting Star, with guns, radar and automatic fire control system added.
A detachment was sent to Korea, where it saw some combat in the Korean War, shooting down four enemy fighters. Another detachment was the 59th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, (all-weather, night-fighter interceptor,) which was sent to Goose Bay, Labrador in November, 1952 and placed under the control of NEAC (North East Air Command.) One flight from the 59th FIS was kept at Thule Airbase to back up the DEW-Line (Distant Early warning Radar sites on Greenland.)
The F-94B remained in USAF service through 1954
before being transferred to the Air National Guard
. The F-94C was retired from USAF service in 1959
, as newer and more capable interceptors entered service. Air National Guard units retired their F-94s year later.
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The AGM-129 ACM (Advanced Cruise Missile) is the United States Air Force's current nuclear-armed air-launched cruise missile, replacing the earlier AGM-86 ALCM (Air Launched Cruise Missile). The AGM-129 includes a new inertial guidance system, a laser-based mapping system, and a number of stealth features to improve accuracy and penetration ability.
The AGM-129 is currently only carried by the B-52H Stratofortress
, although capable of being utilized by other aircraft. The B-52 uses external wing mounts that give six missiles per launcher per wing for a twelve AGM-129 missile payload.
Portal:United States Air Force/Vehicle Spotlight/5
The Republic F-105 Thunderchief, commonly known as the "Thud" by its crews, was a single-seat supersonic fighter-bomber used by the United States Air Force. The Mach 2 capable F-105 bore the brunt of strike bombing over North Vietnam early during the Vietnam War. It was later used in the specialized SEAD role suppressing missile sites.
As a follow-on to Mach 1 class F-100 Super Sabre, the F-105 was also armed with missiles and a cannon. But its design was tailored to high-speed low-altitude penetration carrying a single nuclear bomb internally. First flown in 1955, the Thunderchief entered service in 1958. As the largest single-engined fighter ever employed by the USAF, the single-seat F-105 would be adapted to deliver a greater iron bomb load than the four-engined ten-man strategic bombers of World War II. The F-105 would be best remembered as the primary strike bomber over North Vietnam in the early stages of the Vietnam War. After flying over 20,000 missions, 382 F-105s were lost, of which 62 were operational casualties. Although not designed for air combat, F-105s were also credited with 27.5 enemy aircraft by the USAF.
During the war, the two-seat F-105F and F-105G Wild Weasel variants became the first dedicated Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) platforms fighting against the Soviet-built S-75 Dvina (SA-2 Guideline) surface-to-air missiles. Two Wild Weasel pilots earned the Medal of Honor attacking missile sites, with one shooting down two MiG-17s the same day. The dangerous missions often required them to be the "first in, last out" in order to suppress the threat of air defenses prior to strike aircraft arriving and keeping them suppressed until the strike aircraft left the area.
Although the F-105 weighed 50,000 pounds (22,680 kg), the aircraft could exceed the speed of sound
at sea level and Mach 2
at high altitude. It could carry up to 14,000 pounds (6,700 kg) of bombs and missiles. The Thunderchief was later replaced as a strike aircraft over North Vietnam by both the F-4 Phantom II
and the swing-wing F-111
. However, the "Wild Weasel" variants remained in service until 1984, when they were replaced by a specialized F-4G "Wild Weasel V".
Portal:United States Air Force/Vehicle Spotlight/6
The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress is an American four-engine heavy bomber aircraft developed for the US Army Air Corps (USAAC). Competing against Douglas and Martin for a contract to build 200 planes, the Boeing entry outperformed both the other competitors and more than met the Air Corps' expectations. Although Boeing lost the contract due to the prototype's crash, the Air Corps was so impressed with Boeing's design that they ordered 13 B-17s. The B-17 Flying Fortress went on to enter full-scale production and was considered the first truly mass-produced large aircraft, eventually evolving through numerous design advancements, from B-17A to G.
The B-17 was primarily employed in the daylight precision strategic bombing campaign of World War II against German industrial and civilian targets. The United States Eighth Air Force based in England and the Fifteenth Air Force based in Italy complemented the RAF Bomber Command's nighttime area bombing in Operation Pointblank, to help secure air superiority over the cities, factories and battlefields of Western Europe in preparation for Operation Overlord. The B-17 also participated, to a lesser extent, in the War in the Pacific.
From its pre-war inception, the USAAC touted the aircraft as a strategic weapon; it was a potent, high-flying, long-ranging bomber capable of unleashing great destruction yet able to defend itself. With the ability to return home despite extensive battle damage, its durability, especially in belly-landings and ditchings, quickly took on mythic proportions. Stories and photos of B-17s surviving battle damage widely circulated, boosting its iconic status. Despite an inferior range and bombload compared to the more numerous B-24 Liberator
, a survey of Eighth Air Force
crews showed a much higher rate of satisfaction in the B-17. With a service ceiling greater than any of its Allied contemporaries, the B-17 established itself as a superb weapons system, dropping more bombs than any other US aircraft in World War II. Of the 1.5 million tonnes
of bombs dropped on Germany, 500,000 were dropped from B-17s.
Portal:United States Air Force/Vehicle Spotlight/7
The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird was an advanced, long-range, Mach 3+ strategic reconnaissance aircraft developed from the Lockheed YF-12A and A-12 aircraft by the Lockheed Skunk Works. The SR-71 was unofficially named the Blackbird; its crews often called it the Sled, or the Habu ("snake"). The SR-71 line was in service from 1964, through 1998 for the USAF, through 1999 for NASA. Clarence "Kelly" Johnson was the man behind many of the design's advanced concepts. The SR-71 was one of the first aircraft to be shaped to reduce radar cross section. However, the aircraft was not stealthy and still had a large enough radar signature to be tracked by contemporary systems. The aircraft's defense was its high speed and operating altitude; if a surface-to-air missile launch was detected, the standard evasive action was to simply accelerate. Twelve of the aircraft have been destroyed, though none lost to enemy action.
The SR-71 holds the record for flying from New York
: 1 hour 54 minutes and 56.4 seconds, set on 1 September 1974. On 28 July 1976, an SR-71 broke the world record for its class: an absolute speed record
of 2,193.1669 mph (3,529.56 km/h), and a US "absolute altitude record" of 85,068.997 feet (25,929 m). In 1990
, a retirement flight of the SR-71 set a coast-to-coast speed record at an average 2,124 mph (3,418 km/h). The entire trip was reported as 68 minutes and 17 seconds. Three additional records were set within segments of the flight, including a new absolute top speed of 2,242 mph measured between the radar gates set up in St. Louis and Cincinnati.
Portal:United States Air Force/Vehicle Spotlight/8
The AH-56 Cheyenne
was a four-bladed, single-engine attack helicopter
developed by Lockheed
for the United States Army's Advanced Aerial Fire Support System
) program to produce the Army's first, dedicated attack helicopter. Lockheed designed the AH-56 utilizing a rigid-rotor and configured the aircraft as a compound helicopter
; with low-mounted wings and a tail-mounted thrusting propeller. It was armed with a 30 mm cannon in a belly turret and either a 7.62 mm minigun or a 40 mm grenade launcher in a nose turret, as well as six wing hardpoints capable of mounting 2.75 inch (70 mm) rocket launchers
and TOW missiles
. The compound helicopter design was intended to provide a 212-knot dash capability in order to serve as an armed escort to the Army's transport helicopters, such as the UH-1 Iroquois
Portal:United States Air Force/Vehicle Spotlight/9
Eight Peacekeeper re-entry vehicles passing through clouds while approaching an open-ocean impact zone during a flight test.
The LGM-118 Peacekeeper
was a land-based intercontinental ballistic missile
(ICBM). It entered active service with the Air Force with the 90th Strategic Missile Wing
at F. E. Warren Air Force Base
, Wyoming in 1986. The missile was capable of carrying 10 independent 300-kiloton W87 nuclear warheads
. It served as part of the US nuclear triad
with the role of deterring a nuclear attack on the United States or its allies. The missiles were deployed into retrofitted Minuteman III
silos in Wyoming. Congressional security concerns, budget constraints, and a changing geopolitical environment limited production and deployment of the weapons, and ultimately 114 were built with only 50 of them being deployed to the field. When the START II
treaty was signed in 1993 limiting the number of warheads on any ICBM the need for the Peacekeeper was greatly diminished. The Air Force began decommissioning its arsenal in 2003 and the last Peacekeeper was retired from active service two years later in 2005. Most of the rocket bodies are being converted into Minotaur IV
rockets to be used to put satellites into earth orbit.
Portal:United States Air Force/Vehicle Spotlight/10
The P-80 Shooting Star was the first jet fighter used operationally by the United States Army Air Forces. It was introduced into active service in July 1945, during the closing weeks of World War II, however, the aircraft did not see combat during the war. The Army Air Forces, and later the Air Force, acquired more than 1,700 of the aircraft before the end of the production run in 1950. The aircraft saw extensive action during the opening phases of the Korean War. However, as the more nimble F-86 Sabre came into service the P-80s were primarily assigned to ground attack and photo reconnaissance roles.
The P-80 design was the basis of the T-33 Shooting Star
trainer aircraft. The Shooting Star airframe became the primary jet trainer as the Air Force migrated to more advanced fighters.
Portal:United States Air Force/Vehicle Spotlight/11
The C-130 Hercules is a multi-role transport aircraft. First introduced in 1956 the airframe has proven to be incredibly versatile. The aircraft was designed by the Lockheed corporation and initially designed to carry up to 92 passengers, have a range of 1,100 nautical miles (2,000 km), and have the capability to take off and land at short and unprepared strips. Testing for the aircraft was conducted from 1954-1956 with the first production models being delivered to the 463d Troop Carrier Wing at Ardmore AFB, Oklahoma and the 314th Troop Carrier Wing at Sewart AFB, Tennessee in December 1956.
Since that time the C-130 has performed admirably. The aircraft has been employed extensively in major combat operations and military operations other than war (such as humanitarian aid missions) since first being deployed. It continues to perform airlift, airdrop, aerial refueling, electronic warfare, close air support, and reconnaissance missions worldwide.
To date 2,262 C-130s have been produced. There are more than 50 military and civilian variants of the aircraft operated by 89 countries. The newest version, the C-130J Super Hercules
, includes major upgrades to the avionics and engines, increases the speed and range of the aircraft while reducing the crew requirements.
Portal:United States Air Force/Vehicle Spotlight/12
Conceptual painting of DSP satellite on orbit.
The Defense Support Program (DSP) consists of a constellation of 23 satellites positioned in geosynchronous orbit. The satellites use an infrared sensor to conduct their mission of detecting missile launches and nuclear explosions. The spacecraft were designed and built by Northrop Grumman Space Technology and all but two were launched using Titan IVB rockets. The DSP satellites are operated by the 460th Space Wing stationed at Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado.
The first DSP satellite was launched on 6 November 1970. The initial satellites were built with a 15 month life expectancy, however, developmental improvements increased the life expectancy to 5 years for the most recent block of satellites. The satellites were most famously employed during the 1991 Gulf War when they detected the launch of Iraqi Scud missiles and successfully provided warnings to forces in Israel and Saudi Arabia. In addition to military applications the satellites have proven helpful in mapping the extent of natural disasters such as forest fires and volcanic eruptions.
The DSP satellites are slated to be replaced by the Space-Based Infrared System (SIBRS)
Portal:United States Air Force/Vehicle Spotlight/13
The O-2 Skymaster was the military version of the Cessna Skymaster. The aircraft was ordered in 1966 to replace the O-1 Bird Dog as the primary observation aircraft for forward air control (FAC) missions. The first aircraft was delivered in January 1967. A total of 532 aircraft were built in two variants. The A model included hard points on the wings to allow for weapons while the B model removed the weapon hard points in favor of loudspeakers and a leaflet dispenser.
The O-2 was used extensively during the Vietnam War
for Forward Air Control
missions and psychological operations
(PSYOPS). 178 of the aircraft were lost through the course of the war. The USAF continued to fly the O-2 into the late 1980's when it was replaced by OV-10 Bronco
and the A-37 Dragonfly
Portal:United States Air Force/Vehicle Spotlight/14
The F-101 Voodoo was the second of the "Century Series" aircraft. The aircraft was designed in the wake of World War II as a long-range bomber escort. Development continued into the 1950s with the first production model delivered to the Air Force in 1957. By that time the introduction of jet bombers had rendered fighter escorts unnecessary, so the role of the Voodoo changed to conducting interceptor, strike, and photo reconnaissance missions.
F-101s played a role in the Cuban Missile Crisis by providing reconnaissance over Cuba. The Voodoo was also employed in the early stages of the Vietnam War, primarily conducting reconnaissance roles. Additionally, the aircraft was used extensively for air defense in the United States. Voodoo aircraft and crews also trained to employ tactical nuclear weapons.
A total of 807 aircraft were built for the Air Force. When the F-4 Phantom II
was delivered it proved to be for more capable than the Voodoo, consequently it was retired from active service in 1972 and from the Air National Guard
Portal:United States Air Force/Vehicle Spotlight/15
The MQ-9 Reaper is the first unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) designed specifically to fill a hunter-killer role. The Reaper design is primarily based on the earlier MQ-1 Predator. The aircraft has the capability to carry an array of ground attack munitions and external fuel tanks. Additionally, tests are currently underway to equip it with air-to-air weaponry. A Reaper carrying a full complement of weapons has a flight capability of 14 hours and a range of 3,200 nmi (5,926 km).
Reapers have seen combat in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The extended loiter times have provided real-time intelligence for theater commanders and the Reaper capabilities have offered commanders an instant strike option for targets of opportunity.
To date the Air Force has an inventory of 28 Reapers flying primarily with the 174th Fighter Wing
and the 432d Air Expeditionary Wing
Portal:United States Air Force/Vehicle Spotlight/16
The P-51 Mustang is one of the most celebrated aircraft in U.S. history. Development of the aircraft first began shortly after World War II broke out in late 1939. The initial design was marked by poor performance at high altitudes. However, after being outfitted with Rolls-Royce Merlin engine the aircraft saw a marked improvement. The aircraft went into service with the U.S. Army Air Forces beginning in 1942.
The Mustang saw extensive service during World War II. Its capabilities made it ideal for bomber escort in the European Theater of Operations. As the war progressed P-51s added a ground attack role. Despite the employment of newer jet aircraft, Mustangs were also employed during the Korean War serving primarily in ground attack and reconnaissance roles.
The last Mustang to serve in the Air Force was retired from the West Virginia Air National Guard
in 1957. A total of 15,875 Mustangs were built through its production history. Mustangs were flown by several foreign air forces, with active operations continuing to 1984. Additionally, civilian operators continue to fly Mustangs today.
Portal:United States Air Force/Vehicle Spotlight/17
The T-37 Tweet is a two-seat trainer aircraft. It was designed by Cessna in the mid-1950s in response to the USAF request for a jet trainer. The Cessna design featured twin jet propulsion and side-by-side seating to facilitate flight instruction. Production began in 1955 with the first aircraft entering operations in 1957. The aircraft earned the nickname, "Tweet," because of a constant high-pitch whistle emitted by the aircraft in flight.
The USAF acquired a total of 996 of the aircraft between 1955 and 1973. The Tweet has served as the USAF's basic flight trainer since its first employment. The T-37 was phased out of the inventory in mid-2009 and replaced by the T-6 Texan II for basic flight training.
Cessna did produce a weaponized model of the T-37 for foreign sales. A total of 273 of these 'C' models were built through 1975.
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The KC-135 Stratotanker is the primary aerial refueler in the USAF. The aircraft was designed and built by Boeing based on their 367-80 airframe, the same design that lead to their 707 commercial airliner. The aircraft went into production in 1954 and the first operational KC-135 was delivered to the Air Force in 1957. The aircraft is capable of carrying up to 200,000 lbs. (90,700 kg) of fuel and 83,000 pounds (37,600 kg) of cargo.
The Stratotanker has seen extensive service around the world since first being introduced. The aircraft enabled fighters with limited fuel capacity and range to reach targets beyond their normal ability and provided them with the ability to have greater loiter times over target areas. Through the air refueling capability offered by the KC-135 the USAF is able to build and sustain a global logistics network with high efficiency.
The Air Force acquired a total of 732 KC-135, with 505 still in service. With the newest KC-135 now more than 40-years old the USAF is seeking to replace it with a newer tanker
. Contract difficulties have slowed the acquisition process however, and the KC-135 will likely continue service for the near future.
Portal:United States Air Force/Vehicle Spotlight/19
The JN-4 "Jenny" is the series of biplanes built by the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company. The aircraft was designed as an evolutionary improvement to the earlier JN-1 and JN-2 trainers. The aircraft had a service ceiling of 6,500 ft (2,000 m) and a maximum speed of 75 mph (121 km/h). A total of 6,813 JN-4s were produced.
The earlier JN-3 was employed as an observation aircraft during the Mexican Expedition
. The next iteration of the Jenny saw service during World War I
as the primary trainer aircraft for the United States. A few were outfitted with weapons for advanced training, but the JN-4 did not see combat. The JN-4s were sold off as more advanced aircraft replaced the Jennys. Many were used for stunt flying and conducting aerobatic
Portal:United States Air Force/Vehicle Spotlight/20
The JB-2 "Loon" was the US copy of the German V-1 flying bomb. American engineers at Wright Field reverse engineered a V-1 in June 1944 and then began building an American version of the missile with slight differences from the original German model and the first test launch was done at Eglin Army Air Field in October 1944. The initial production order was for 1,000 JB-2s with an additional 1,000 JB-2s per month. The envisioned end-state was an inventory of 75,000 rockets. Additionally, sea-based and air-based versions of the weapon were also being developed.
US planners had intended to use the JB-2 as part of Operation Downfall
, however, the use of atomic weapons
and the Japanese surrender
rendered the use of JB-2 rockets unnecessary. A total of 1,391 JB-2s were produced. Testing with the rockets continued in the post-war years in air-, ground-, and sea-based capacities. The rocket was used for testing against ground targets as well as a potential anti-aircraft weapon
. While the JB-2 was never operationally deployed it served as the foundation for future US ballistic missile
systems including the MGM-1 Matador
and the MGM-13 Mace