Since man learned to fly, we've been trying to turn this gift into a weapon. During times of war, any advantage is worth having, and being able to shoot the enemy from above changed the structure of modern warfare. The planes you're about to see are some of the biggest and baddest the military has ever created.
They have one purpose, and when you see them flying overhead it's time to run for cover. Luckily, these pictures are harmless so it's safe to stare at them.
Few Combat Planes Were As Dangerous As The Hawker Hurricane
During the Battle of Britain, the Supermarine Spitfire might get all the credit, but it was actually the Hawker Hurricane that was responsible for most of the enemy losses. The single-seat fighter craft was produced in large numbers (14,000) between 1937 and 1944.
There were various types of Hawker Hurricanes developed. One was created to be a bomber-interceptor while another was a fighter-bomber. In addition, the Hawker Aircraft Company also produced several models to serve as ground support vehicles. Today, there are about 17 Hawker Hurricanes still in flight-ready condition.
The F-16 Fighting Falcon Is More Than Just A Fighter
Nicknamed the "Viper" by some because it bears a resemblance to the deadly snake, the F-16 Fighting Falcon was built for aerial combat but has been used in several other capacities as well. This plane is fast, swift, and has 11 positions for mounted weapons and other equipment.
The F-16 was created in 1974 and was introduced four years later. It has been used by 26 countries, including the United States. With a unit cost of $14 million, it's also one of the cheaper aircraft on our list!
The P-51 Mustang Was Vital In Winning World War II
The P-51 Mustang has been used by several countries including China and England. The North American bomber was most vitally used by Allied forces during World War II to help overcome German forces. It was later used with varying success during the Korean War.
The single-seat, long-range fighter bomber made its first flight for the United States in 1942. It was officially retired from service 42 years later in 1984. If you happen to see one in the air above you today, it is probably a scale flying replica as there are few — if any — original P-51 Mustangs still in flying condition.
The Kawanishi H8K Was Nicknamed "Emily" By Allied Forces
Originally used by Japan for ocean patrols, the Kawanishi H8K was called "Emily" by Allied forces during World War II. Able to hold a ten man crew, the plane could reach a maximum speed of 290 miles per hour and could travel 4,400 miles on one tank of fuel.
At least two H8Ks live submerged in the ocean. One lives off the coast of Saipan where it has become a popular scuba diving attraction. The other one lays wrecked under the surface of Chuuk Lagoon in Micronesia.
The Lockheed C-5 Galaxy Is Still Used By The United States Today
The Lockheed C-5 Galaxy made its first flight for the United States Air Force in 1970. Today, almost 50 years later, it's still in service. With modern upgrades and new engines, the current fleet is expected to remain in service until at least 2040.
In 1974, Iran offered the United States $160 million to help in production of the aircraft. The country had good relations with America at the time and planned to buy their own units. When the Iranian Revolution happened in 1979, the deal was called off.
The Antonov An-124 Has Set Records Worldwide
Designed for the Soviet Union in the 1980s, the Antonov An-124 is one of the largest military transport airplanes used today. It also holds the record for longest flight without refueling after travelling for 25 straight hours. Since it first went into production, 55 have been produced.
Production on the Antonov An-124 ceased production in 2004 but is still in active service today. Overall, one of these vehicles can carry 88 passengers and can reach speeds up to 490 miles per hour. It can also carry a payload of up to 33,000 pounds.
The Tupolev T-160 Breaks The Scales
Created by the Russian Air Force, the Tupolev Tu-160 is the heaviest and largest combat aircraft still in use today. It was first used in 1987 and is the last strategic bomber ever produced for the Soviet Union. If it had propellers we bet they'd move faster than the speed of sound!
In 2016, it was reported that Russia still had at least 16 Tu-160s in service. Since the start of the century, the aircraft has been receiving regular upgrades technologically. The first fully updated Tu-160 took flight in 2016.
The B-52 Replaced The Convair B-36 Peacemaker
Peacemaker is the wrong name for this beast. Unless you consider being the first aircraft capable of dropping nuclear bombs peaceful. It could also travel over international waters without being refueled. Luckily, this deadly bird of prey didn't stick around for very long.
Unluckily, the B-36 was replaced with the B-52 Stratofortress, proving that names do matter. Once the B-52 became the military's weapon of choice, the B-36 was retired. That was in 1959, well after it had participated in several "peacekeeping" missions.
The Kongjing-2000 Radar Plane Can Track Ballistic Missiles
Taking its maiden flight in 2003, the Kongjing-2000 Radar Plane is dedicated to monitoring the skies for enemy targets and tracking ballistic missiles. This is one aircraft you want to avoid if you can! It can track fighter targets from 470 kilometers away and ballistic missiles from 1,200 kilometers away.
In 2013, a second generation of the Kongjing-2000 Radar Plane was spotted in the skies. The new variant was loaded with next-generation radar an can assumably track targets and missiles from longer distances.
The Boeing 747-8 Freighter Will Make Sure Your Package Is Delivered On Time
If you recognize the name Boeing, that's because the company is the world's largest manufacturer in aerospace engineering. The 747-Freighter topped the scales when it was released in 2010, able to achieve a 975,000-pound takeoff weight. These planes, including earlier versions, are responsible for carrying half of the world's air freight!
Before designing the 747-8F, Boeing considered making a larger version of the cargo aircraft. It would have been a stretched version of their 747 and use the wings of the 777 model. When they announced the plane, there was not enough interest to pursue development.
You Might Recognize The MiG-21 Fighter From Top Gun
In the movie Top Gun, starring Tom Cruise, Maverick is forced to fight MiG 28 Fighters in aerial combat. The supersonic jet is a fictional variation on the MiG-21 Fighter, the most produced supersonic jet in history. Originally produced by the Soviet Union, the craft has been in active service for over 50 years.
The MiG-21 Fighter is so deadly that it has never gone out of style. There are several different versions, like the MiG-29 and the MiG-31, but none can touch the classic. Since the start of the Korean War, no combat plane has been produced in such high numbers.
The Supermarine Spitfire Earned Its Place In History
The Supermarine Spitfire was the sole aircraft produced by Great Britain throughout the entirety of World War II. Mostly used by the Royal Air Force, the combat craft played a major role in the Battle of Britain. It is admired today as one of the greatest warplanes ever created.
The plane was designed by R.J. Mitchell to reach a top speed of 360 miles per hour. Several variations with different wing shapes were produced. Overall, 20,351 Supermarine Spitfires were made, all using versions of Rolls-Royce engines.
Say Hello To The Caspian Sea Monster
Few names match the machine as well as the Caspian Sea Monster does. The beast of a plane was created by Russia to aid with rescue missions close to the water's surface. Only one of these monsters was ever produced, and then it was destroyed.
If you want to feel what it's like to be in the cockpit of the Caspian Sea Monster, it is a playable vehicle in Flight Simulator X by Microsoft. Let us know how many shipwrecked souls you save!
The Hughes H-4 Hercules Only Made One Flight
Designed as a floating boat by the United States, the Hughes H-4 Hercules ended up being a monstrous failure. The massive aircraft was supposed to cost $2.5 million to produce. In total, the project cost $23 million, a pricetag equalling $238 million today with inflation.
Operationally, the H-4 only made one flight, and even that's debatable. During a taxi run, the aircraft lifted off the water to a height of 70 feet. It flew for one mile at 135 miles per hours before landing. Howard Hughes (the inventor), claimed this proved the cost of the plane was worth it.
The Sopwith Camel Was Destroyed After Retirement
For three years, the Sopwith Camel was the single-seat fighter of choice for the Royal Flying Corps. The biplane was armed with twin synchronized machine guns and equipped with a single rotary engine. During the fleets three years of service (1917-1920), they were credited with shooting down 1,294 enemy aircraft.
When the aircraft was retired in 1920, all ships left working were destroyed. The destruction of the surviving aircraft was deliberate so they would not fall into enemy hands.
The Super Guppy Is Known For Its Unique Look
Used by NASA, there is no denying the Super Guppy is one of the most unique looking planes on our list. The plane was used in the '60s to transport oversized cargo components. It was the successor of the Pregnant Guppy and could be opened from the front end to unload its cargo.
Five of these spacious airships were built, and all remain intact in some form, today. Four of them are on display at museums worldwide. One, the Super Guppy Turbine N941NA, is still in service by NASA today and is based at the El Paso Forward Operating location.
Only One Martin JRM Mars Is Still In Use Today
The Martin JRM Mars was first produced in 1942 and served during World War II. The craft was used as a long range ocean patrol vehicle and could even land on the water if necessary. Of the seven produced, only one is still being used today.
After the war, four of the JRM Mars were converted to be used as firefighting water bombers. Of those fours, the Hawaii II is still used today and was even used by British Columbia to help fight fires during a particularly bad season in 2015.
The Largest Wingspan Belongs To The Antonov An-225 Mriya
The Antonov An-225 Mriya was designed by the Soviet Union in the 1980s and has the largest wingspan of any military craft in operational service. With a maximum takeoff weight of 710 tons, there is no mission this machine can't handle.
Originally designed by Antonov Design Bureau, it's powered by six turbofan engines and was created to transport the Buran spaceplane. Several halts in production have troubled the history of the plane and its original purpose. It was reimagined in 2009 as a commercial aircraft and is currently used by Antonov Airlines.
The Convair XC-99 Is Long And Strong
Another one of the heaviest crafts ever created, the Convair XC-99 come in just behind the H-4 as the second largest piston engine powered plane. On one mission, the massive craft carried over 40,000 tons of cargo. After years of service, the plane "retired" in 1957 and currently resides in Ohio.
The Convair XC-99 was mostly used by the United States Air Force, making its first flight for the organization in 1947. Only one was ever built, and it logged a total of 7,400 working hours.
The Ilyushin II-76 Reaches Speeds Of Almost 600 Miles Per Hour
Created in 1974 in the Soviet Union as a replacement for the Antonov aircraft of the time, the Ilyushin II-76 reached a top speed of 559 miles per hour. It is considered Russia's first ever four-jet heavy transporter. Close to 1,000 of the 152-long crafts are still in operation today.
Development on the Ilyushin II-76 began in 1967. As the replacement for the Antonov aircraft, it was designed to deliver heavy machinery to remote areas. It has also been used by militaries around the world for aerial refueling.
The Lockheed U-2 Was Used To Gather Intelligence
Used by the Central Intelligence Agency during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Lockheed U-2 is a high-altitude military jet used to gather intelligence. It was first proposed in 1953 and made its maiden voyage in 1955. Designed by Clarence Johnson, the U-2 has also been used by the Republic of China Air Force and NASA.
In 1989, the U-2, also known as the "Dragon Lady," was used by NASA to photograph a space shuttle launch at high altitude. The pictures were then used to identify causes of tile loss, a severe problem encountered in the decade.
It's Time To Meet The Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules
First taking flight in 1996, the Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules continues the Hercules family legacy started decades before. The Super Hercules is no slouch and has been used by both the United States Air Force as well as the United States Marine Corps.
Still in service today, the Super Hercules has been threatened by successors in the past, only to outlive them all; most notably, the Advanced Medium STOL Transport. Since its debut, over 400 of these technical champions have been sold and produced.
The Northrop YF-17 Is Nicknamed "Cobra" For A Reason
The Northrop YF-17 was designed as a prototype by the United States after the F-15 Eagle was deemed to large and expensive for combat. The smaller YF-17, nicknames the "Cobra," was part of the Lightweight Fighter program announced in 1971. The Navy became involved with the program three years later.
Unfortunately, the fighter never made it past the prototype stage. The F-18 was designed shortly after. If the two had been paired in the skies together, enemies would have stood no chance. If it had made it to production, the F-17 would have been capable of a top speed of 1,320 miles per hour.
The Blohm And Voss BV 238 Tipped The Scales For Germany In 1944
Development on the Blohm and Voss BV 238 began in Germany in 1941. It was created after the success of the enormous BV 222. When it launched in 1944, it became the heaviest aircraft ever built at the time. It was also the biggest aircraft the Axis powers had ever produced.
Only one Blohm and Voss 238 was built by Germany, although two other prototypes were attempted but never completed. The flying boat had a maximum speed of 250 miles per hour and weighed almost 200,000 pounds.
The Zeppelin-Staaken R.VI Dropped Bombs During World War I
Don't laugh at the design of this wooden, four-engined biplane because the Zeppelin-Staaken R.VI was devastating for German forces during World War I. Over the course of the war, Germany's fleet of these bombers dropped nearly 30 tons of bombs!
Between 1917 and 1919, 18 Zeppelin-Staaken R.VIs were made. Today, the remnants of them are nearly impossible to find. A conclusive crash site was discovered by Piet Steen in 2007. Using the aide of Polish aviation historians, parts recovered were correctly identified as belonging to the 18 airship fleet.
The Stratotanker Gave The US A Major Advantage
Known as the Stratotanker, the Boeing KC-135 joins a long list of planes made by Boeing with intimidating days. Our favorite is still Stratofortress, but Stratotanker is a close second. The craft was first used by the United States Air Force in 1957 and is still used today.
Used as a re-fueler, the aircraft allowed assaults that would normally last a few minutes stretch out for several hours. Providing this kind of support gave the United States a major advantage in aerial conflict. Of course, that kind of power doesn't come cheap, the cost of one unit for the Stratotanker is $39.6 million!