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Top 10 Fastest Military Airplanes

It is said that the first use of military aviation occurred in 1794 during the Battle of Fleurus when the French were able to use an observation balloon to secretly watch where Austrian soldiers were moving during the battle. Though successful at the time, many advances have been made within the realm of military air power. In today’s world, you probably won’t see an observation balloon in the air. Instead, you’ll see a sleek military aircraft or, in the case of the Stealth B-2 Spirit Bomber, you may not notice anything at all.

The following list names ten of the fastest military airplanes to ever exist. All speeds are represented in mach and each one of these airplanes is piloted and uses jet engines. All of the aircraft listed below are able to travel at supersonic speeds. So buckle up and prepare for the ride!

10. F-14D Super Tomcat– Mach 2.34

If you’ve ever seen Top Gun, you’ve definitely seen the Tomcat, though probably one of an earlier series. The F-14D Tomcat, designed by Grumman, is definitely a one of a kind aircraft. Able to reach speeds at mach 2.34, the aircraft was made to be able to destroy enemy aircraft at night. While many planes are only cleared to fly in decent weather, the F-14D can fly and destroy in any type of conditions. Not only can it attack at night in not-so-great weather, the plane can also target not 1, not 2, but 6 targets at the same time. The Tomcat is also great for detecting hostile aircraft from 100 miles away. The plane took its maiden flight on November 23, 1987 from Grumman’s Calverton plant and the final prototype took flight on February 9, 1990.

The F-14D Tomcat stands as the final result of the F-14 series and was upgraded with new computer software that was far more reliable and advanced. However, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney deemed the airplanes uncompetitive enough to compete with today’s modern technology and cancelled production of the F-14 in 2008.

Flying, fighting or sitting?

The U.S. Navy retired use of the F-14D Tomcat on March 10, 2006. February 8, 2006 marked the last date that the aircraft would be used in an American combat mission which called for a bomb to be dropped in Iraq. About 712 of these planes were built, but most of them today are grounded. Tomcats still intact without much damage or mechanical issues are housed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. You will also find plenty of models at various air and space museums.

Others were destroyed so that Iran and other countries would not get access to the plane’s parts (there are reportedly 20 F-14s in Iran that are operational, 44 in total).

As of 2007, 23 of the 165 planes have been demolished by shredding. It costs about $900,000 to demolish each plane properly, which is about 42% of the cost of making an F-14D.

9. MiG-23 Flogger – Mach 2.35

The MiG-23 Flogger was built to replace the previous MiG-21 Fishbed. It was most definitely an upgrade as the plane was crafted with a much more powerful engine as well as variable sweep wings which could change variables such as speed, takeoff time, and landing time. Those who have flown the plane say that it is one of the best built fighters and that it is relatively easy to fly and handle. In 1985, 769 trainers and 4,278 single-seat MiG-23s were completed though the first flight of the plane was on June 10, 1967 and it was fully entered into service in 1973.

Though a Russian defense fighter armed with infrared tracking systems and radar, the plane was acquired by the U.S. and was named the YF-113 after changes were made. Once the aircraft were readied for flight, they were widely used by the Soviet Union as well as Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, East Germany, and a few other Warsaw Pact allies. Countries such as Cuba, North Korea, India, Egypt, Syria, and others also have ownership MiG-23s. The Israeli military also use a simplified model of the Flogger.

Flying, fighting or sitting?

Even though it was phased out of Russian use in 1994, the MiG-23 has remained a highly popular fighter in various countries. Though not used as often as it was in the past, the Russian army does have operational MiG-23s stored at various bases. They have also used the planes as escort aircraft to Su-30s. About 11,000 MiG-23s are still flown by various air force groups around the world, it is widely used in places such as Angola, Ukraine, Sudan, Kazakhstan, and India. There are also plenty of MiG-23s at various museums, including the Museum of the Great Patriotic War in Kiev and the Museum of Aviation in Belgrade.

8. Su-27 Flanker – Mach 2.35

When the U.S. whipped out their top notch F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon, the U.S.S.R needed some sort of answer for the truly remarkable aircraft that were up in the skies. These U.S. planes put Russian pilots at a huge disadvantage and the country needed a way to out-do the Americans. To fix this, the U.S.S.R created the Su-27 Flanker. The plane was made to be able to fly in very hostile territory and gain control of air supremacy. Able to fly at speeds of 2.35 mach, the Flanker is sometimes called the most capable fighter of its time.  The first prototype of the plane first flew on May 20, 1977 but was not up to par with its American rivals. The final design of the Su-27 was completed on April 20, 1981 and proved to be just what the U.S.S.R needed. During this time the plane set plenty of records, including take-off speed and the highest climbed altitude. Even though this was Russia’s project, other countries such as Vietnam and China were very interested in producing their own versions, but this cost a pretty penny of $180 million.

Flying, fighting or sitting?

Today you’ll find the Su-27 Flankers mostly flying. Not many of these planes are in museums yet-many are featured in air shows just for “oohs” and “ahs,” while others are still in military use. Though the U.S.S.R is history, Russia has 449 working planes, Belarus has 19, and the Ukraine has 74. Besides these countries, the U.S., Ethiopia, Indonesia, and others also own a few of these planes. Today, many of these planes are sold for about $5 million.

7. F-14 Tomcat – Mach 2.37

Made to replace the cancelled F-111B, the F-14 Tomcat couldn’t have come at a better time. The U.S. Navy was seeking a long-range fighter and Grumman had the answer: the F-14. Production of the first F-14s began in the 1970s; however, changes were made after it was found that the TF30 engines were very limiting. To fix this, the aircraft were upgraded with better engines that would allow for the reliability and performance that was demanded. Besides early engine issues, the F-14 has proven to be a great aircraft. Equipped with variable-sweep wings and a huge fuel capacity, this plane was ace. The plane is also able to engage missiles and enemy aircraft from more than 100 miles away. This is particularly useful because it is often used to protect aircraft carriers from being attacked from the sky. The plane was downgraded with limited ground attack capability during the 1990s after the Soviet Union was no longer in existence and the previously installed capabilities were no longer needed. Today the planes have been replaced by the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet due to rising maintenance costs.

Flying, fighting or sitting?

The F-14D Tomcat was retired on September 22, 1996. Its last military mission was on February 8 of the same year when the planes were ordered to drop a bomb in Iraq. Even though plans had been made to keep the plane in production past 2010, the cost to build and maintain them was too expensive. The creation of any new F-14s was halted, and those that remain operational were slowly taken out of the sky. In the U.S., you won’t find an F-14 flying or fighting off foreign aircraft. Instead, many of them have been placed in museums. Though none of these planes are flown in the U.S. anymore, the Iran Air Force does have access to them as they were given to them in 1976. However, Iran stands as the only country besides the U.S. to use these planes.

6. Su-24 Fencer – Mach 2.4

Often compared to the U.S. F-111, the Su-24 Fencer is a Soviet-made aircraft. Originally meant as competition, the Fencer proved that it was much better. In fact, the plane is often called the most dangerous aircraft that the Soviet Union has ever had. The plane was much faster, smaller, lighter, and more powerful than the F-111.

The best part about this aircraft is that it is able to hit mach 2.4 at low altitudes; not many planes are able to do that, as many times it takes a certain altitude to be able to fly at a supersonic speed. The Fencer is also equipped with missiles with laser-designators, which often means better accuracy. This technology along with terrain-radar makes the Fencer very powerful. The plane had its maiden flight in July 2, 1967 and was formally introduced into the military in 1974.

Flying, fighting or sitting?

About 1,400 Su-24 Fencers have been created; 650 of those belonging to the Soviet Union. Fencers that are slowly being phased out by the new more advanced Su-34. However, this phase out has not been quick and many of these planes are still used by the Russian Air Force as well as the Ukrainian Air Force- until Russia’s government can assure that there is enough money to cover the cost of building the new Su-34. It’s said that these planes were used in 2008 during the conflict in Georgia. Besides these two countries, places such as Iran, Algeria, Iraq, Libya, Belarus, and many others also use this plane for military reasons.

5. F-111 Aardvark – Mach 2.5

The F-111 Aardvark is probably most known for its entirely detachable and enclosed module designed for the two crewmen in the plane in the event that they will need to do an emergency eject. First drafted in the early 1960s by General Dynamics, the F-111 Aardvark, despite its weird animal choice for a name, was a widely used strategic bomber during its time. The aircraft took its first flight on December 21, 1964 and was brought into the military force in July 1967. The purpose of the F-111 was to create an airplane that could serve as a long-range interceptor for the U.S. Navy as well as a top notch strike fighter bomber for the Air Force’s use. However, the aircraft only proved useful for the Air Force because after the plane was assembled and ready to be put onto a carrier, it was deemed too heavy to be used. Despite this, the Air Force put good use to the F-111 but not until its common engine inlet, drag, and various structural failure problems were corrected. Once the F-111F came to the surface, the plane was top notch with very powerful engines, terrain-following radar, and laser-guided weapons. All of the previous conflicts were fixed and the Aardvark became a highly useful aircraft for many years.

Flying, fighting or sitting?

During the Vietnam War, the F-111 was a widely used airplane; however, due to various circumstances, the plane had extremely heavy losses. Today the F-111 Aardvark isn’t in use in the U.S. The U.S. Air Force stopped using the plane in 1998. In the U.S., you’ll find the F-111 on display in various museums, including California, Illinois, Texas, Alabama, New York, Ohio, New Mexico, and many other places. Australia still uses a pretty small fleet of F-111Cs, but the country plans to stop using them by the end of 2010 so that the F-35 can take its place.

4. F-15 Eagle – Mach 2.5

Looking ahead to the future for a plane that would successfully replace the F-4 Phantom, the U.S. Air Force sent out a requirement seeking an advanced air superiority fighter with long-range capabilities. In 1965, the same year the request was made, the idea behind the F-15 Eagle came to light. Just seven years later, the plane took its maiden flight and was entered into service in 1979. McDonnell Douglas, a company now better known as Boeing, created an aircraft that had large wings and amazing agility for a larger airplane measuring about 64 feet in length and 42 feet just in the wingspan. Though a larger airplane than most on the list, the use of titanium as well as extended compression adjustable inlets allow the plane to reach mach 2.5 speeds in no time. However, the Eagle is only able to go about 1.78 mach when it is loaded with weapons. Of course just like most planes, the F-15 Eagle had various series, including the F-15A and F-15D. The newer models were much more advanced, equipped with top-of-the-line radar, new computers, and more.

Flying, fighting or sitting?

Today, the F-15 Eagle is one of the few planes on the list that is still used by U.S. forces including the National Guard as well as the Air Force. The Eagle is often considered to be one of the most successful pieces of aircraft ever created. The plane has a count of over 100 successful missions since its debut. These planes have been widely used in Middle Eastern conflicts in the past, and the history hasn’t changed. With the war in Iraq and the mission for Operation Iraqi Freedom, the F-15s have proven to be vital pieces of aircraft to success in the war. Outside of the U.S., many other countries have also decided to keep using the F-15. These countries include Japan, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.

3. MiG-31 Foxhound – Mach 2.83

Flying its first flight on September 16, 1975, the MiG-31 Foxhound was made to act as a more advanced MiG-25 fighter. The purpose of the airplane would be to intercept foreign aircraft at high speeds as well as to thwart cruise missiles and low-flying aircraft. Even though it is oddly similar to the MiG-25, the Foxhound is said to be a great improvement. The plane is bigger than the MiG-25 and is considered to be much stronger as well. It has the capability to fly at supersonic speeds, even at low altitudes. The plane has also been given new engines with more power as well as advanced tracking radar that makes the Foxhound much more reliable and efficient in its job. Once the plane was perfected, it was able to enter service in 1983. With the new plane in use, the use of the MiG-25 declined as the Foxhound began to replace them. After all was said and done, about 400-500 MiG-31s were created for Russia and the Soviet Union.

Flying, fighting or sitting?

Today, Russia, Kazakhstan, and soon to be Syria all used the MiG-31. Russia has about 286 that are used for military purposes, with 100 left in reserve in the event that the country will need to use them. Kazakhstan also owns a few Foxhounds, but many of them are said to be nonoperational, though the country plans to refurbish about 10 of them to use for the Kazakhstan Air Force. Syria doesn’t own any Foxhounds yet, but the country should have access to them within the coming years. The government ordered several of these planes but the order has been halted due to outside pressure (and possibly monetary issues).

2. MiG-25R Foxbat-B – Mach 3.2

In 1959, the Soviet Union was focused on creating a fighter plane that could intercept as well as be used for reconnaissance activities. Like a few other Russian planes on the list, this plane was created to be some sort of competition to aircraft such as the Lockheed SR-71 as well as the North American XB-70. In March 1964, the MiG-25R Foxbat took its first flight and soon after in 1969, a law was signed to allow for testing of the plane with the reconnaissance capabilities and the testing began in 1970. At this time there was also a law passed to test the plane that could be used as an interceptor. In 1972 both designs were used by the Soviet Air Force. The plane is equipped with an automatic fire control system as well as great radar later including look-down shoot-down radar after 1980 when all of the MiGs were updated. The MiG-25R Foxbat is also able to bomb stationary targets using free fall bombs from 65,000 ft. up while traveling at a supersonic speed. There was also a system installed that allowed the plane to drop 10 bombs at one time.

Flying, fighting or sitting?

Various countries around the world still use the MiG-25R. Places such as Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Syria, Turkmenistan, Iran, and Algeria all have access to these planes. Of course, Russia, the main crafters of the plane, also continue to use them. All together the Russian Air Force has about 39 running MiG-25s. While some are still flown, others are grounded in air museums, including the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

1. SR-71 Blackbird – Mach 3.2+

Even though it was first introduced in 1966, the SR-71 Blackbird still stands as the fastest manned reconnaissance aircraft four decades later. Manufactured by Lockheed, the SR-71 was mainly designed by Clarence “Kelly” Johnson who has been named an important figure in aviation history. The plane was first flown on December 22, 1964, and was able to enter service in January 1966. Able to fly at speeds of mach 3.2 or more, the SR-71 was a must have as the U-2 reconnaissance airplane was highly vulnerable to Soviet air defenses due to its speed and ability to claim to higher altitudes. In came the SR-71 which was much faster and was equipped with capabilities to escape attacks. In fact, the plane was never downed by an enemy; instead, 12 of the 32 ever made were ruined in accidents. The plane was painted with a new technology paint that did not allow it to be easily spotted with radar. The overall shape of the plane also made it one of the first stealth-technology airplanes.

Flying, fighting or sitting?

Today you won’t find an SR-71 flying amongst the clouds. Instead, you’ll more than likely find it at a museum, or if you work for Lockheed in Palmdale, you’ll find three of them locked away. The SR-71 was permanently retired in 1998 when it became clear to Congress and the U.S. Air Force that the plane was highly expensive to maintain and operate. Because the plane was used so much during the Cold War, despite being retired for the first time in 1991, Congress decided to reactivate a small fleet to be used. Despite amazing upgrades to the aircraft, such as an advanced radar system and a data link able to send out real time images, the SR-71 was grounded in 1998 for good.

If you ever want to get a great look at an SR-71, you can find them at various air and space museums as well as at Air Force bases in Tucson, Arizona; Edwards Air Force Base in California; Kalamazoo, Michigan; Eglin Air Force Base in Florida; as well as various museums in California, England, Ashland, Nebraska, Ohio, Utah, and Virginia.


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