Since the day man learned to fly, we made it our goal 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 the biggest and baddest the military has ever produced. They have one purpose, and when you see them above you, it's time to run. Luckily, these pictures are harmless, so it's safe to stare.
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 Xian H-6 Bomber Was Retired In 2000
As sleek as it is deadly, the Xian H-6 Strategic Bomber was introduced by the Chinese military in 1958. After decades of service, including with the Iraqi and Egyptian Air Forces, the bomber was officially retired in 2000. Since then, newer and deadlier versions have been produced.
Anyone curious to see one of the original Xian H-6 Strategic Bombers needs to go to Beijing, where fully intact ones are on display to the public. Of course, you can't get inside of one, but you don't need to to fully understand the magnitude of its power.
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 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 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 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 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.
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.
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 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 Boeing C-17 Globemaster III Can Airlift Anything
Taking flight in 1991, the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III has been used primarily as a transport aircraft for the United States Airforce. It has also been used by the Indian Air Force and the Royal Air Force for various military missions.
The Globemaster began its active service with the United States in 1995 and is still active today in these countries; Canada, Australia, India, Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. Since 1991, no more than 16 Globemasters have ever been produced in a year. In recent years, the number has dropped to less than ten.
The Stratotanker Proves Boeing Has A Way With Names
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!
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 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 Lockheed U-2 Is Better Known As The "Dragon Lady"
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.
Seven Martin JRM Mars Were Produced
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.
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 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 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 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 Sopwith Camel Was Perfect For Slingers
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 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 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 Super Guppy Is Expecting!
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.
The Northrop YF-17 Is The Cobra Of The Skies
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 B-2 Bomber Is A Still A Military Staple
Considered too expensive for the military when it was first produced in 1987, the B-2 Stealth Bomber proved its worth ten years later when it made its first flight with the United States Air Force. Currently, the Air Force plans to operate B-2s until 2032.
The original idea behind the B-2 was to create a high altitude aircraft that could deflect or absorb radar signals, made it undetectable by enemy forces. Because of this, the bomber was kept secret as a "black project" by the government. In 1984, a Northrop employee was arrested for attempting to sell information about the bomber to the Soviet Union.
The SR-71 Wasn't Just A Punk Band.
Introduced by the United States Air Force in 1966, the name SR-71 became more known in the early 2000s for the punk band that used their name. Retired from the air force in 1998 and NASA in 1999, the airplane was used as a long-range reconnaissance craft and was originally developed as a black project.
A total of 32 SR-71 were produced between 1964 and 1998. None were taken "hostage" by the enemy, but 12 were lost in accidents. In 1976, the "Blackbird" set the record for the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft. The record still stands today.
The Fisher P-75 Eagle Was A Let-Down
Everything about the Fisher P-75 Eagle was supposed to be a success. The "75" came from the French 75-mm gun of the Great War, so it was a symbol of victory. Adding eagle to the name stood for American greatness and the media helped build the hype of this aircraft.
The P-75 Eagle was the Frankenstein of interceptors as it combined parts from better aircraft. Sadly, the engine used for the Eagle didn't live up to the hype of everything else and was highly disappointing. It lacked horsepower and made the overall performance of the Eagle underwhelming.
The Accident-Heavy Douglas DC-10
Having had 55 accidents with many fatalities to date, the DC-10 is one of the most poorly-manufactured jets to exist. Probably the biggest issue with it is that the cargo doors opened outward opposed to inward like regular planes.
Due to this flaw, an improperly closed door flew open in the middle of a flight in 1972, alerting the need for a redesign. Something similar happened in 1974, and then in 1979, an engine fell off the wing during take-off. Today, the carrier is much safer thanks to many redesigns.
The Bell FM-1 Airacuda
Bell aircraft were new to the scene in 1937 and had a futuristic look combined with unconventional features that hid the long list of flaws. While the Bell FM-1 Airacuda placement of engine and guns made it easier for the weapons to fire at bomber formations, the engine would overheat.
The rear propellors spelled death for any gunner that needed to bail out. To make things even worse, when you fired the guns, the gunner stations would get filled with smoke!
The Cutless Struggled
The Vought F7U Cutlass had one of the more interesting designs. By getting rid of the traditional tail and bringing in a swept wing design, the aircraft had its fair share of problems since the first time it flew. Yes, the Cutlass was fast, but at times it would struggle to stay in the air.
To add insult to injury, the turbojets on the F7U didn't pack enough thrust for sufficient take-offs and landings. At least three of the prototypes crashed. Twenty-five percent of these aircraft became lost thanks to accidents.
An Atomically Bad Idea
A nuclear reactor is a device used to start and control a nuclear chain reaction. They are most commonly used at nuclear power plants. Somehow in the '50s, someone came up with the idea of adding a nuclear reactor to an aircraft.
The Convair NB-36 "Atomic wait" was a disaster waiting to happen whenever it took off into the air. The U.S. intended to test operating a nuclear reactor in-flight. Flying this carrier out was so dangerous that it only flew 47 times and a team of support aircraft had to follow it every time.
An Odd Looking Jet
Designed in Poland, the PZL M-15 Belphegor is the only mass-produced biplane in history. This biplane was also absolutely terrible. The design was created in 1972 and its first purpose was to be operated as a crop duster that sprayed the soviet farms.
Looking back, it probably wasn't a good idea to design a crop duster equipped with jet power. These jets were also more expensive to run than the planes they were to replace. Overall, this was a pointless creation.
On The Wright Path
According to the Smithsonian Institution, the Wright Flyer was "the first powered, heavier-than-air machine to achieve controlled, sustained flight with a pilot aboard." They forgot to mention that the time in the air lasted a maximum of 59 seconds.
It was also hard to manage and only covered 852 feet. On December 17, 1903, the Wright Flyer flew four times, but it would never retake flight because the pilot basically had no control over it. A significant step forward for innovation, but not so good for pilots.
A Rip-off Of The Harrier Jump Jet
Militaries across the world saw how much of an advantage it was to have a vertical take-off and landing fighter much like the Harrier Jump Jet used by the British Navy. That's when the Soviet Union came up with the Yakovlev Yak-38.
It worked nothing like the Harrier. It could only fly a measly 800 miles at a time without weapons. Another downfall was that it could only fly for 15 minutes at a time in hot weather. The only good thing about this jet was the ejector seat.
The Price Was Too Steep
If you're looking at the Lockheed Martin VH-71 Kestrel from an aeronautical point of view, this helicopter is excellent. So why isn’t in service anymore? Back in 2002, AgustaWestland and Lockheed Martin agreed to develop and market this beast in America.
The aircraft won a competition to become the new fleet of helicopters used by the Marine Corps and Presidential transport in 2005, but at what cost? In four years, the contract for this project had jumped from $6.1 billion to $11.2 billion! Some blame the high prices on additional requests or improper lobby ties.
The Fast Research Plane Experience
Everyone loves keeping up with the Joneses. That's why after Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in a Bell X-1 in 1947, many other air forces wanted to have a fast research plane. Enter the British Bristol 188 that turned out to be extremely flawed.
Would you want to fly in something where the fuel tank leaked whenever you were flying? What about not being able to take off until you reach 300mph? The Bristol was supposed to be able to reach Mach 2.6, but it struggled to hit Mach 2!
Great Craftsmanship Doesn't Always Lead To Results
A man by the name of Samuel Pierpont Langley was a brilliant inventor and scientist who was also the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. After creating a great model aircraft that flew over a mile in 1901, he decided to step it up and build the first manned power flight.
All of the specs for the Aerodrome were on point. It had 52hp radial, the best power-to-weight ratio out of all the engines out there. The only (rather large) downfall is that it couldn't fly. It flew off of its catapult and fell into the Potomac River. Twice.
The Little Goblin
The idea for the McDonnell XF-85 Goblin is that it was a parasite fighter. That meant the Goblin would be attached to a larger bomber for takeoff, then mid-flight they would release the parasite so it could fight off other planes.
The idea sounds great, but the biggest issue is that the Goblin would get outgunned by the enemies in combat. The battle struggles were because of the .50-cal machine guns it used. Soon enough, the project ended.
A Bizarre Idea
In the 1950s, the U.S. military had a ton of bizarre ideas. Thanks to a beefed-up military budget, many of the concepts came to fruition. The whole focus behind the Lockheed XFV-1 Salmon was enabling it to take off vertically almost like a rocket.
A vertical take-off is excellent for a point defense interceptor, but it came with a massive flaw for pilots. It meant that you would have to land vertically, but backward. There were also issues with the engine tearing itself into pieces.
The Grumman X-29 Was Aerodynamically Unstable
In the 1980s and '90s, the U.S. Air Force used a Grumman X-29A with a unique forward-swept wing in fighter jet research. The wing configuration was intended to help the plane handle better at subsonic speeds but instead made it completely aerodynamically unstable.
Developed by Grumman, NASA, the Air Force, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the plane was a disaster. A NASA historian said of the X-29A, "It was unflyable — literally — without a digital flight computer on board, which made corrections to the flight path 40 times a second."
The First Ever German-designed Airliner
The Baade 152 was the first German-designed airliner they based on a slew of bomber concepts. The features it had like a high-wing and outrigger wheels on the wing tips work very well with bombers, but not airliners. In only its second flight the prototype crashed.
The entire crew died as a result of that crash. On a separate occasion, engineers found out the fuel lines stopped during a descent, which caused the engines to quit. Once the project ended in 1961, the Baade became the only East German plane ever made.
Exciting Look, With Bad Performance
By the time the '70s came around, you would have thought that the richest and biggest aviation industry in the world wouldn’t create aircraft that couldn’t fly. Then, they said, "hold my beer" and created the Rockwell XFV-12.
The Rockwell looked as fancy as they come with its wing style and pointed front, but looks can be deceiving. It used an interesting system called the “thrust augmentor wing” allowing the engine to enable verticle flight. Sadly, it could only lift three-quarters of it off the ground, and it never flew.
Danger In The Air
The Tupolev Tu-144 was one of two supersonic airliners with the other being the Concorde. Both came out in the late '70s, and the Concorde became an icon while the Tupolev was overall dangerous. It’s not good when the first passenger prototype crashes at the Paris Air show.
That crash happened thanks to 22 out of the 24 central systems failing mid-flight. Engineers also found that two airframes used were close to complete failure. The aircraft only took flight 55 times before getting shut down for good.
A Horrible French Attempt
Some ideas look fantastic on paper but turn out horrible in reality. That's what happened with the Dassault Balzac V, a French attempt at creating a fighter jet that could land and take off vertically. They got the idea from the modified version of the successful Mirage III fighter.
During testing of the Dassault, two pilots died, but that didn’t stop them from creating a prototype that also crashed. Thankfully, the pilot ejected himself successfully.
The First Commercial Jet-Powered Airliner
There are many great things one can say about the De Havilland Comet, but the bad certainly outweighs the good. The Comet might have had a great run, but there were things that you can't pass up like how it overshot runways and mid-air decompressions.
The Comet soon became the blueprint for how not to create an aircraft. They redesigned and updated it various times while it was in service, but that didn’t stop the fatal accidents from tampering with its reputation.
"The Devil's Hoverbike"
In the 1950s, the U.S. Army thought that having their infantryman hover into battle was the right thing to do. Not with jetpacks, but on a one-person helicopter. One of the scary things about this aircraft is that the rotor blades are only four inches under the feet!
Pilots had to balance on a tiny platform with deadly blades waiting for them to slip. They finally realized that this idea just made people more of a target than offering help on the battlefield.