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The Most Popular Military Planes in History

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Dominance of the skies has played a crucial role in all military conflicts since World War II. The biggest air force is not always the best, but there is a distinct advantage to outnumbering an enemy. This advantage is greatly increased when a military is capable of producing more aircraft on a consistent basis. Here, we are looking at some of the most produced military planes of all time and the roles these aircraft played throughout the years. (Also see, the U.S. has the largest air force in the world.)

To determine the most produced military planes of all time, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed all-time aircraft production totals from Military Factory, an online database of military vehicles, aircraft, arms, and more. Military planes that had more than 12,000 units produced are ranked by their production runs. Supplemental information about the country of origin, year entered service, crew size, maximum speed, roles, and when the military plane was notably used also came from Military Factory.

It is worth noting that a majority of the military planes on this list were produced for use in WWII. While planes were involved in fighting in World War I, technology improved considerably by WWII, and countries relied heavily on aircraft for bombing raids, surveillance, transport and more and both sides had to produce aircraft by the hundreds. The aircraft on this list have played pivotal roles in conflicts over the years and contributed to the evolution of aerial combat and continue to inspire new generations of military aircraft. 

Take the Ilyushin IL-2 Shturmovik, one of the Soviet Union’s most widely-produced aircraft. With over 36,000 units manufactured during WWII, the IL-2 was also known as the “Flying Tank” thanks to the combination of armor protection, performance, and firepower. As a central component of the Soviet air force, its role was pivotal during the Eastern Front combat, providing air support and ground assault capabilities, according to Military Factory. 

On the American side, the Consolidated B-24 Liberator is high up on the list with over 18,000 units produced during World War II. The B-24’s roles included anti-submarine warfare, and reconnaissance and surveillance.

One of the most iconic military aircraft of World War II, and most widely produced, was the North American P-51 Mustang. Over 15,000 units were manufactured, a testament to the aircraft’s impact in aerial combat, according to Military Factory. The P-51 was initially used as a long-range escort for bombers, but later became fighter-bomber. The aircraft remains legendary to this day.

The newest generations of aircraft have nowhere near the production numbers of some older planes, but it can be argued that these new aircraft are so advanced that fewer planes have an outsized impact. (See these warplanes fly faster than the speed of sound.)

Here is a look at the most widely produced military planes of all time:

Source: rancho_runner / iStock via Getty Images

26. Grumman F6F Hellcat
> Number produced: 12,272
> Country of origin: United States
> Year entered service: 1943
> Notably used doing: World War II
> Crew size: 1
> Max speed: 380 mph
> Roles: Air-to-air combat fighter, interception, ground attack (bombing, strafing), close-air support, Maritime / Navy

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25. Vought F4U Corsair
> Number produced: 12,571
> Country of origin: United States
> Year entered service: 1942
> Notably used doing: World War II
> Crew size: 1
> Max speed: 446 mph
> Roles: Air-to-air combat fighter, interception, ground attack (bombing, strafing), close-air support, Maritime / Navy, intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance

Source: GNeesam / iStock via Getty Images

24. Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress
> Number produced: 12,731
> Country of origin: United States
> Year entered service: 1937
> Notably used doing: World War II
> Crew size: 10
> Max speed: 287 mph
> Roles: Ground attack (bombing, strafing), close-air support, airborne early warning, anti-ship, electronic warfare, search & rescue, transport, commercial aviation, VIP service, intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance, training

23. Douglas C-47 (Skytrain / Dakota)
> Number produced: 12,748
> Country of origin: United States
> Year entered service: 1942
> Notably used doing: World War II
> Crew size: 3
> Max speed: 230 mph
> Roles: Ground attack (bombing, strafing), close-air support, MEDEVAC, transport, VIP service

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

22. AeroVironment RQ-11 Raven
> Number produced: 13,000
> Country of origin: United States
> Year entered service: 2003
> Notably used doing: War in Afghanistan
> Crew size: 0
> Max speed: 35 mph
> Roles: Intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance, special forces, unmanned capability

Source: dynasoar / iStock Unreleased via Getty Images

21. Hawker Hurricane
> Number produced: 14,583
> Country of origin: United Kingdom
> Year entered service: 1937
> Notably used doing: World War II
> Crew size: 1
> Max speed: 318 mph
> Roles: Air-to-air combat fighter

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Source: Lukas Wunderlich / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

20. Boeing 737
> Number produced: 14,725
> Country of origin: United States
> Year entered service: 1968
> Notably used doing: Global War on Terrorism
> Crew size: 2
> Max speed: 544 mph
> Roles: Military transport, commercial aviation

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

19. WACO Hadrian (CG-4)
> Number produced: 14,972
> Country of origin: United States
> Year entered service: 1942
> Notably used doing: World War II
> Crew size: 2
> Max speed: 149 mph
> Roles: Military transport

Source: sdasmarchives / Flickr

18. Junkers Ju 88
> Number produced: 15,183
> Country of origin: Nazi Germany
> Year entered service: 1939
> Notably used doing: World War II
> Crew size: 4
> Max speed: 317 mph
> Roles: Air-to-air support, ground attack (bombing, strafing), close-air support, anti-ship, intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance

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17. North American T-6 Texan
> Number produced: 15,495
> Country of origin: United States
> Year entered service: 1936
> Notably used doing: World War II
> Crew size: 2
> Max speed: 209 mph
> Roles: Close-air support, training

Source: my_public_domain_photos / Flickr

16. North American P-51 Mustang
> Number produced: 15,586
> Country of origin: United States
> Year entered service: 1942
> Notably used doing: World War II
> Crew size: 1
> Max speed: 437 mph
> Roles: Air-to-air combat fighter, interception, close-air support, intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance, training

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Source: US Air Force, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

15. Republic P-47 Thunderbolt
> Number produced: 15,660
> Country of origin: United States
> Year entered service: 1942
> Notably used doing: World War II
> Crew size: 1
> Max speed: 433 mph
> Roles: Air-to-air combat fighter, ground attack (bombing, strafing, training, close-air support

Source: sdasmarchives / Flickr

14. Douglas DC-3
> Number produced: 16,079
> Country of origin: United States
> Year entered service: 1936
> Notably used doing: World War II
> Crew size: 2 + 3
> Max speed: 237 mph
> Roles: Military transport, commercial aviation

Source: sdasmarchives / Flickr

13. Yakovlev Yak-9 (Frank)
> Number produced: 16,769
> Country of origin: Soviet Union
> Year entered service: 1943
> Notably used doing: World War II
> Crew size: 1
> Max speed: 434 mph
> Roles: Air-to-air combat fighter, interception, intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance

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12. Curtiss P-40 Warhawk
> Number produced: 16,800
> Country of origin: United States
> Year entered service: 1941
> Notably used doing: World War II
> Crew size: 1
> Max speed: 378 mph
> Roles: Air-to-air combat fighter, intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance

11. Beechcraft Bonanza
> Number produced: 17,000
> Country of origin: United States
> Year entered service: 1947
> Notably used doing: Vietnam War
> Crew size: 1
> Max speed: 203 mph
> Roles: Transport, commercial aviation, VIP service, training

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Source: Fotokot197 / iStock via Getty Images

10. Antonov An-2 (Colt)
> Number produced: 18,000
> Country of origin: Soviet Union
> Year entered service: 1947
> Notably used doing: Korean War
> Crew size: 2
> Max speed: 160 mph
> Roles: Close-air support, Maritime / Navy, transport, commercial aviation, VIP service, intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance, training

Source: sdasmarchives / Flickr

9. Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 (Fagot)
> Number produced: 18,000
> Country of origin: Soviet Union
> Year entered service: 1949
> Notably used doing: Korean War
> Crew size: 1
> Max speed: 668 mph
> Roles: Air-to-air combat fighter, interception, close-air support, ground attack (bombing, strafing), training

Source: Angel Di Bilio / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

8. Consolidated B-24 Liberator
> Number produced: 18,482
> Country of origin: United States
> Year entered service: 1941
> Notably used doing: World War II
> Crew size: 7 to 10
> Max speed: 290 mph
> Roles: Ground attack (bombing, strafing), anti-submarine warfare, transport, VIP service, intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance

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7. Focke-Wulf Fw 190 (Wurger)
> Number produced: 20,000
> Country of origin: Nazi Germany
> Year entered service: 1941
> Notably used doing: World War II
> Crew size: 1
> Max speed: 426 mph
> Roles: Air-to-air combat fighter, ground attack (bombing, strafing, training

Source: Peter King / iStock via Getty Images

6. Supermarine Spitfire
> Number produced: 20,351
> Country of origin: United Kingdom
> Year entered service: 1938
> Notably used doing: World War II
> Crew size: 1
> Max speed: 369 mph
> Roles: Air-to-air combat fighter, interception, close-air support, intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance

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Source: sdasmarchives / Flickr

5. Cessna 182 (Skylane)
> Number produced: 23,240
> Country of origin: United States
> Year entered service: 1956
> Notably used doing: Vietnam War
> Crew size: 1
> Max speed: 174 mph
> Roles: Close-air support, MEDEVAC, search & rescue, commercial aviation, training

Source: SteveStone / iStock Unreleased via Getty Images

4. Messerschmitt Bf 109
> Number produced: 35,500
> Country of origin: Nazi Germany
> Year entered service: 1937
> Notably used doing: World War II
> Crew size: 1
> Max speed: 359 mph
> Roles: Air-to-air combat fighter, interception, close-air support, intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

3. Ilyushin IL-2 Shturmovik (Bark)
> Number produced: 36,183
> Country of origin: Soviet Union
> Year entered service: 1941
> Notably used doing: World War II
> Crew size: 2
> Max speed: 258 mph
> Roles: Ground attack (bombing, strafing), close-air support

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2. Polikarpov Po-2 (Mule)
> Number produced: 40,200
> Country of origin: Soviet Union
> Year entered service: 1929
> Notably used doing: World War II
> Crew size: 2
> Max speed: 94 mph
> Roles: Ground attack (bombing, strafing), close-air support, MEDEVAC, search & rescue, Maritime / Navy, commercial aviation, VIP service, intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance, training

Source: lilly3 / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

1. Cessna 172 (Skyhawk)
> Number produced: 44,000
> Country of origin: United States
> Year entered service: 1956
> Notably used doing: Vietnam War
> Crew size: 1
> Max speed: 186 mph
> Roles: MEDEVAC, search & rescue, Maritime / Navy, transport, commercial aviation, VIP service, intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance, training

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