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10 Best Planes

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posted on Oct, 16 2006 @ 09:38 AM

I got to thinking about what the ten most important combat planes in history should be. Actually ten is a hard number to pare down to. You might disagree with some and have other candidates but this is my reasoning for the best of the best in no particular order.

Produced in huge numbers the Douglas DC-3 airliner went to war and became the C-47. It was soon affectionately labeled “Gooney Bird.” Rock solid, stable, and honest-flying were the trademarks of the DC-3 and C-47. As the DC-3 the ship pioneered relatively comfortable, fast and safe air travel. As the C-47 a cargo door and beefed up floor allowed the plane to haul anything that could be passed through the door. C-47s were the backbone of the Normandy invasion carrying vast numbers of airborne troops that parachuted into the France and even towed gliders. The rugged airframe construction and reliable engines could absorb damage to a substantial degree and keep flying.

Supply is the lifeblood of any army and the C-47 did a magnificent job hauling parts, ammo and other equipment to every third-rate airstrip of the world. Numbers made the difference and with over 10,000 built there was never a shortage factor. After the war many C-47s were converted back to passenger configuration and served into the 1970s. With many warehouse full of spares for them they soldiered on. Cost per mile and operating expenses were so low coupled with high reliability that small airlines and cargo companies couldn’t replace the venerable planes with anything else.

The C-47 finally got its guns in Vietnam armed with a trio of 7.62 mm mini guns that produced a violet waterfall of fire when seen at night. Banking over the target aimed the side-pointed weapons that saturated a given area in lethal projectiles.

There are other famous WW II America fighters like the P-40 of the Flying Tigers. Some will say the P-47 Thunderbolt should make the list and there are no Navy planes either. But the true turning point of WW II came with the debut of the P-51 Mustang in that its long-range escort ability saved the Allied bomber offensive from obliteration. As things were going about the time of the Schweinfurt Raids in mid-to-late 1943, the US was seriously considering ceasing large daylight bombing operations due to extensive losses.

P-51s truly brought the war to Germany like the bomber alone could not do. Before it the Luftwaffe knew exactly when the P-47s and or Spitfires had to turn back and were waiting to intercept the bombers. As mentioned, losses were high. The Mustangs were able to tag along to any European or Pacific target, no matter how distant, giving the protection of their guns to their “Big Friends” as they stuck close. Once the tide was turning the P-51s were unleashed to pursue enemy fighters on any terms encountered.

Mustangs were as maneuverable or more so than FW 190s or Bf 109s they met in most circumstances. While the Bs and Cs had four .50s with a total of 1,260 rounds, the D and later models had six guns with 1,880 rounds of API- armor-piercing incendiary ammo. Plus with the Merlin that replaced the original Allison V-12, the planes were faster with a 437-MPH top speed than most German planes but for a handful. The late-war P-51H seen in the closing stages of the Pacific could manage 487 MPH.

After WW II they served in Air National Guard units and bore much of the ground attack war in Korea. Many saw use in small air forces around the world and some were even revamped in the 1980s for counter insurgency roles. All models’ production totaled around 14,000 aircraft.

When one thinks of the word “bomber” the Boeing B-17 springs to mind. Described as a “flying fortress” by a news writer the name stuck and became its official moniker. There were more B-24s built- about 16,000- than B-17s- about 12,000- but the forgiving nature of the Boeing airframe absorbed damage that would have made other planes coffins. There are countless stories of Forts returning their crews to England safely after suffering massive structural damage and loss of engines. Missing complete vertical or horizontal stabilizers or the loss of several feet of wing, they flew on. Gaping holes or mangled noses that dragged them down to near stall speed didn’t deter the big planes’ ability to function as an airborne lifesaver to the thankful crew that would have been dead or at least POWs in lesser craft. As a B-24 gunner I know stated, “When an engine quit on the B-24 it was really time to sweat since it didn’t fly on two.”

A bomb load of 4-5,000 lbs. was the usual long-range payload. Ten crewmen were aboard and had as many as thirteen .50 caliber guns for defense. But such was the technology and thought of the time to build a big plane to carry bombs a long way. Looking at a small, single-seat fighter today that can carry 6,000 lbs. or more and refuel in flight it seems the B-17 was almost feeble in comparison. They did the job they were built for at the time they were needed.

The F-4 Phantom II was the first fighter built to “expand” with future equipment. Ultimately over 5,000 were manufactured. For a brief time it was known as the F-110 in its Air Force niche before the move to single designation for all services came about. McDonnell left plenty of room for future, unknown “add-on” equipment that might be developed in the foreseeable future making the F-4 longer-lived in theory.

It was huge compared to its Soviet opponents. Maneuverability was not of paramount concern. Electronic equipment and advanced weaponry was deemed more important. Like the F-86 before it, the F-4’s opponents in Vietnam had advantages. But like all planes in all situations before pilots used the plane to its best advantage and made kills. The Air Force in its infinite wisdom opted for missile-only armament believing the forecast of the Cold War thinking where fighters would be primarily intercepting Soviet heavy bombers like the F-86D.


posted on Oct, 16 2006 @ 09:40 AM
Vietnam proved that guns were still viable weapons and many US pilots lost kills due to the fact that they were out of missiles when opportunities arose in the form of MiG targets. Mud moving was a forte of the F-4 though and a staggering amount and variety of ordnance could be carried aloft for this purpose. F-4s were designed as multi-role craft and whatever the job was on a given day the appropriate armament was strapped on, be it the oft-used napalm, general purpose or cluster bombs. A trio of 7.62mm GE mini-gun pods or 20 mm Vulpods could be attached with their 6,000 RPM rate of fire to decimate any ground target with a hail of projectiles. Though a Vulcan was ‘built in” starting with the F-4E, squadrons experimented with hanging a centerline Vulpod on for air-to-air use but without the correct sighting equipment is was spray and pray. Air Force ace Steve Ritchie and Navy ace Randy Cunningham got all their kills with missiles.

What can anyone say about the plane that symbolized the American might of the Cold War? Longevity loses its definition in the aircraft sense when a top-performing aircraft usually is replaced in 5-8 years. Boeing B-52Hs have been going strong since 1962 with earlier models in service since the early 1950s. There are crewmen today whose fathers flew the same exact aircraft decades ago. And the plan is that the 100 Hs will be functional in the USAF inventory until 2040 something!

The original strong points were the facts that B-52 could re-fuel in flight and carry unbelievable weights of bombs- 75,000 lbs. They flew 50,000 feet high and in Vietnam were not often hit by SAMs due to a sophisticated array of ECMs (electronic counter measures). High-flying MiGs downed a scant few. The continual upgrading of the ships has kept them “new.” Airframes have been structurally bolstered and show no signs of catastrophic failure. Its been discussed that the eight engines may be replaced by four of something else that are more fuel efficient and combined as powerful as the eight originals.

Weaponry has run the gambit from the original iron general-purpose bombs to the nuclear variety through to assorted missiles including the modern cruise type. Known lovingly to aerial aficionados as BUF- Big Ugly Fu…Fellow, a certain number of the type were in the air with nuclear weapons on a round the clock basis making their lonely circuits to Fail Safe points and back over and over just in case…

The North American Sabre was the last big production plane in the WW II style of rapidly forthcoming models and the last honest fighter without quirks. Some 8,500 were produced. It was an honest handling airplane with no surprises. While MiG 15s generally had better performance in many circumstances, the F-86 pilots killed them at an unprecedented rate. Its armament was pure WW II with its six .50 caliber Browning M3 machineguns with 267 RPG in the nose but they gave way to four 20 mm cannon after Korea and the D had all missile armament.

Aerial warfare was forever changed with this plane. Closing speeds head-on demanded quick reactions and perfect timing over Korea. It provided the next logical progression of fighter warfare so most of the WW II fighter veterans that flew it felt as though the F-86 was an extension of their P-47s and P-51s.

They were seen in almost every free world air force for many years after being replaced in the US.

Ubiquitous is the word for the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon. It has seen service all over the planet and mixed it up with adversaries to come out on top in most cases. A substantial amount- about 5,000-have been built. Performance put it in the super-plane category with its fast acceleration, maneuverability and good weapons systems. It is still a potent contender in any air force and should be treated with respect by foes. They have gone against Soviet designs of all types in a wide variety of environments and excelled.

While newer, stealthier designs have made F-16 somewhat obsolete they are still fighters to be reckoned with if met in combat. The built-in 20 mm Vulcan cannon augments missiles of which any newer type can be mounted. In a dogfight the F-16 can hold its own with any plane in the world. This is quite remarkable considering it was designed thirty years ago.

One of the first really successful “hot rods” owing to the formula of stuffing the most powerful engine possible into a slim, light design. Supermarine Spitfires performed well in all areas of execution, be it climb, level speed or high ceiling. The few Spits were more instrumental than any plane beside the Hurricane in staving off the Germans in the 1940 Battle of Britain.

Designer Reginald Mitchell worked himself to an early death in his labor on the plane but it allowed British airmen a par with most adversaries. The Spitfire pilot’s main tactic was “never stop turning” and the Spits could outturn all but, perhaps, the Zeros. Armament in early models was eight .303 caliber machine guns that could throw a lot of lead at a given aim point. But this gave way to supplemental pairs of cannon on later models with one pair of heavier machine guns. Gun punch was on par with any Me 109 and a Spitfire brought down the first Me 262 jet.

Spitfires evolved quickly with subsequent models. Some were specialized for certain roles. Weaponry progressed to four 20 mm cannon on late models and speeds were increased above 450 MPH. British aces owe much of their successes to the indomitable Spit. Production for all types ran high with over 20,000 planes turned out.
With the Mitsubishi A6M Zero all was sacrificed for maneuverability. It could have had armor for the pilot. It could have had protection for its gas tanks. It could have had heavier armament. But in a near-WW I projection of consciousness turn and climb was all that mattered to the Japanese military air tacticians. The plane literally exploded on the scene ravaging its enemies and outclassing every fighter it opposed. But its vulnerability was the fact that a single bullet could transform it into a fireball due to lack of armor and self-sealing gas tanks.

Pilots like Saburo Sakai who gained sixty-four kills before being seriously wounded in 1942, mentioned that Imperial Navy pilots generally flew without parachutes and removed the radios to conserve weight. Performance was that critical to them.

posted on Oct, 16 2006 @ 09:41 AM
But its vulnerability was the fact that a single bullet could transform it into a fireball due to lack of armor and self-sealing gas tanks.

Pilots like Saburo Sakai who gained sixty-four kills before being seriously wounded in 1942, mentioned that Imperial Navy pilots generally flew without parachutes and removed the radios to conserve weight. Performance was that critical to them. But the ace-making Zero was not user friendly in that many of the aces fell in flames that a more substantial plane would have saved.

The Zero had a good range at around 1,300 miles and most models could hit around 330 MPH on but ailerons became very stiff above 300 MPH. Its two wing-mounted 20 mm cannon were complimented by two 7.7 mm machine guns in the upper cowl. Later models had heavier caliber machine guns and increased RPG for the two cannon

In the hands of good pilots the Zero superior to anything early in the war. The fact that Japan had stringent pilot training that allowed only the best of the best to be accepted proved the undoing. Later on when these top guns were thinned out by better Allied planes in far greater numbers the rushed pilot training compounded to Japans downfall. Around 11,000 were built.

Bf 109
No other plane equates to WW II Germany like the Messerschmitt Bf 109. It was called “Me 109” in the era by its adversaries or just “Messerschmitt.” Simply saying “one-oh-nine “ was understood around the world. At a time when fighters in the 1930s were underpowered, under-armed and generally lame, the 109 was a really modern concept in combat fighters.

Its “go” came from a superbly engineered Daimler-Benz inverted Vee 12-clyinder electronically fuel injected engine. The quality of it made for less down time and more fly time. And when it flew the injection system allowed constant flow of fuel no matter what attitude the craft was in or how gravity was being tweaked in combat maneuvers. It had pilot armor and gas tank protection. It had cannon armament along with its machine guns when most other fighters usually had a quartet of .30 caliber machine guns only. The pair of 20 mms and dual 7.9 mms was quite effective in the E model. Later models beginning with the E-4 used a Daimler-Benz engine block cast with a “hole” for a cannon to fire through the prop hub. The machine guns were mounted on the upper cowl and this negated and need for convergence of the weapons at a set range allowing for infinite sight-ability making for easier firing solutions by any pilot.

Range was not a strong point but subsequent models allowed drop tanks giving suitable range for most operations in which it was employed. Heavier armament was mounted with dizzying variety on sub-model through the use of field sets that were package kits as such. Incredibly, over 33,000 109s of all models were constructed.

So there you have it, my pick of the ten most important combat planes. Once one gets started to list “honorable mentions” it gets out of control quickly since if you add planes like the P-47 and Ju 88 you then think about the F4F and the Bf 110 and you can’t stop. These ten planes were fulcrums contributing to what came later. They were pivotal in their impact on history. Could other planes have done some of what they did if these ten never existed? Sure, but not with so much panache.

Add some other planes and your logic why. There's no wrong answers!

posted on Oct, 16 2006 @ 06:55 PM
Going by preference:

Simple, awesome (in its day), proven. Pity the West couldn't have produced a fighter that good at that time.

A flying contradiction; beautiful yet menacing. Way better than the B-52 IMO.

Just awesome. Pity it never got developed into an operational fighter.

Su-32/34 Fullback
Cool mucho mucho

Saunders Roe SR53
The best that never flew. Combine jet/rocket powerplant. So promising yet killed off by political incompetence in UK and US bribery in Europe...

BAC Lightning
Nearly 50 years ago yet still simply awesome power and aggression

CF-105 Arrow
Another unforgivable cancellation


posted on Oct, 19 2006 @ 06:48 PM
I completly agree with that list.
removed complete quote of post above

Please read this link about 1-liners

[edit on 20-10-2006 by masqua]

posted on Oct, 19 2006 @ 10:02 PM
I'm fan of general aircrafts that everyone agrees on. I like this kind of post about general aircrafts in this world. Something really bother me about the several of facts that everyone should be agreeing on. Heinekel designed, built and very successful flown the world's most pivotal moment in the history, the first jet-powered aircraft, Heinekel He-178. Also that design is questionable beyond anybody's thinkings during that era and I congraulate these who had done that feat. The second of all, the variants of F-15 Eagle is the greatest fighting machine ever flown in the air with fair of share with combination of technologies and science inside that remarkable machine. It also score more than 100 kills with zero losses like I mentioned in other posts. It is today's superfighter but unlike, its already being replaced by unproven but obviously very effective ultra-fighter, F-22 Raptor. I'm only saying that F-15 is pivotal to the successors like F-22 and supposedly, YF-23. Something fishy going on in Pentagon that why they didn't even thought of far more resourceful and maintainable YF-23 Black Widow II to replace the beautiful but costly and nightmare to maintance, F-117/A Nighthawks? Doesn't it seem like fair share of exotic aircrafts being replaced for others? Would it be nightmare for other side's jets to see F-22 and F-23 flying side by side togehter?

posted on Oct, 19 2006 @ 11:39 PM
What?! No Tomcat? I will drive F-14 to shoot dawn all of them above! That will be teaching you what is the best!

posted on Oct, 20 2006 @ 08:13 AM
id but the harrier in there.

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