Military

This Was America's Fastest Plane in WWII, and It's Not Even Close

P-51+Mustang | P-51 Mustang
ryochijiiwa / Flickr

With pictures of America’s newest stealth bomber, the B-21 Raider, having been released in May 2024, it’s a good time to talk about planes. Airplanes came about only a decade or so before World War I, but that didn’t stop armies from using them in any way they could, mainly as reconnaissance. By World War II, battles in the air became an essential part of many fights. A few well-placed planes could shift the tides of battle.

The United States developed and produced nearly two-thirds of all Allied military equipment used during the Second World War, including 297,000 aircraft. These aircraft played a significant role in helping to turn the tide in favor of the Allies by bolstering the Allies’ military capabilities and playing a transformative role in both air offense and defense during World War II. (These are the WWII bombings that involved the most planes.)

24/7 Wall St. reviewed WW2 Aircraft Ranked-by-Speed, a list compiled by Military Factory, an online database of military vehicles, aircraft, arms, and more to determine the 20 fastest U.S. military planes of WWII. Military aircraft were ranked based on their top speed. Only military planes that had production runs of more than 30 were considered, while prototypes and concept aircraft were excluded. Supplemental information about the year entered service, crew size, and roles also came from the Military Factory.

It should be noted that most of the planes that make this list played roles in air-to-air combat and had small operating crews. Also, planes more toward the top of this list tended to have higher production runs. (These are the most-produced aircraft by any nation during WWII.) Though speed isn’t the most important part of a plane, especially during the war, the speed and ability to travel far on a single tank of gas did lead to some serious advantages.

Here are the top 20 fastest US military planes during World War II.

Why We Are Covering the Fastest WWII Planes

Source: NNehring / E+ via Getty Images

World War II was the deadliest and most destructive war in all of human history. In order to get ahead of enemies, many countries raced to develop new technology and designs, such as medicine, weapons, and planes. Though these improvements were made specifically to advance the war, they’ve had long-lasting effects on daily life, such as improvements in plane speeds, fuel efficiency, and altitude limits.

20. Lockheed C-69 Constellation (Model L-049)

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Maximum speed: 346 mph
  • First year in service: 1945
  • Number of planes made: 856

The Lockheed C-69 Constellation held four crew members. Though it was a military plane, it wasn’t used for fighting, but instead, for transport. This plane first came into the picture in 1945, and a little over 850 of them were made.

19. Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk

Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk
Source: Alan Wilson / Wikimedia Commons
  • Maximum speed: 351 mph
  • First year in service: 1941
  • Number of planes made: 1,180

The Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk held one crew member. It was used for all sorts of fighting tactics, including ground attacks such as strafing and bombing, and air-to-air combat. These planes were first used in 1941, and over 1,000 of them were made.

18. Douglas A-26 / B-26 Invader

Source: Eric Friedebach / Flickr
  • Maximum speed: 355 mph
  • First year in service: 1944
  • Number of planes made: 2,452

The Douglas A-26 had many purposes, even more so than the last plane. Not only could it hold a total of three crew members instead of one, but they were good for ground attacks like bombing and strafing. They also were used for training, reconnaissance, intelligence, surveillance, and close air support.

17. Republic P-43 Lancer

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Maximum speed:  357 mph
  • First year in service: 1941
  • Number of planes made: 272

Though the Republic P-43 Lancer was faster than others so far on this list, and had many purposes, less than 300 were made for the war. They were skilled at air-to-air combat, ground attacks like bombing and strafing, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and even training.

16. Consolidated B-32 Dominator

Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Maximum speed: 357 mph
  • First year in service: 1945
  • Number of planes made: 118

Despite being able to hold 10 crew members, this B-32 Dominator was able to reach speeds up to 357 miles per hour. This wasn’t a transport plane, though. It was used for ground attacks like strafing and bombing, as well as training.

15. Boeing B-29 Superfortress

Source: icholakov / iStock via Getty Images
  • Maximum speed: 358 mph
  • First year in service: 1943
  • Number of planes made: 3,970

Though the B-32 was nice, it wasn’t able to compete with the original Boeing B-29, made two years earlier. Like the B-32, it was able to hold 10 crew members. It also was just a little faster. This plane was used for training and ground attacks like the previous plane, but it also worked for search and rescue, aerial refueling, transport, and surveillance.

14. North American A-36 Mustang

Source: Courtesy of the Official United States Air Force Website, released into the Public Domain
  • Maximum speed: 365 mph
  • First year in service: 1943
  • Number of planes made: 500

The North American A-36 Mustang held one crew member. It was great for air combat and close-air support, as well as the occasional ground attack. Made in 1943, it was a pretty speedy little plane.

13. Northrop P-61 / F-61 Black Widow

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Maximum speed: 366 mph
  • First year in service: 1943
  • Number of planes made: 742

The Northrop P-61 held three crew members. It didn’t do many, if any, ground attacks. Instead, it was primarily used for air-to-air combat and intelligence and reconnaissance.

12. Curtiss P-40 Warhawk

  • Maximum speed: 378 mph
  • First year in service: 1941
  • Number of planes made: 16,800

The Curtiss P-40 Warhawk held one crew member. Like the last plane, it was mostly used for air combat and surveillance, intelligence, and reconnaissance. This tiny and fast plane was a popular option during the war, with over 16,000 made.

11. Grumman F6F Hellcat

Source: rancho_runner / iStock via Getty Images
  • Maximum speed: 380 mph
  • First year in service: 1943
  • Number of planes made: 12,272

The Grumman F6F Hellcat was another popular plane model, with over 12,000 of these planes created during the war. It also only held one person. While air combat was one common use, they were also skilled at providing ground attacks, close-air support, and interceptions.

10. Bell P-39 Airacobra

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Maximum speed: 386 mph
  • First year in service: 1941
  • Number of planes made: 9,588

Like many planes on this list, the Bell P-39 held just one crew member. It was a little faster than the previous plane but was used for similar purposes such as ground attacks, interception, air combat, and close-air support.

9. Bell P-63 Kingcobra

Source: richard neville / iStock Editorial via Getty Images
  • Maximum speed: 410 mph
  • First year in service: 1943
  • Number of planes made: 3,303

This Bell P-63 is the first on this list to break top speeds above 400 miles per hour. It held one person and was primarily used for air combat and support. They were first designed in 1943 and were fairly popular, despite their limited use.

8. Lockheed P-38 Lightning

Lockheed P-38 Lightning
Source: CindyN / CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Maximum speed: 414 mph
  • First year in service: 1939
  • Number of planes made: 9,923

This Lockheed P-38 was made back in 1939, relatively early into the car compared to other planes on this list. Despite that, this one-person plane reached speeds above 400 miles per hour. They also had a few uses including air combat, ground attacks, and surveillance.

7. Brewster F3A (F4U-1) Corsair

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Maximum speed: 416 mph
  • First year in service: 1943
  • Number of planes made: 600

The Brewster F3A held just one person, but they were useful planes. They were good for close-air support, air combat, interception, ground attacks, reconnaissance, and intelligence.

6. Grumman F8F Bearcat

  • Maximum speed: 421 mph
  • First year in service: 1945
  • Number of planes made: 1,266

The Grumman F8F was built in 1945 and was able to go just over 420 miles per hour. As you might expect, it only held one crew member. Its primary uses were air combat and interception.

5. Republic P-47 Thunderbolt

Source: US Air Force / Public domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Maximum speed: 433 mph
  • First year in service: 1942
  • Number of planes made: 15,660

These popular little planes provide air combat, ground attacks, and close-air support. They were fast and agile, and only needed one person to run. There were over 15,500 of them made.

4. North American P-51 Mustang

Source: Hulton Archive / Archive Photos via Getty Images
  • Maximum speed: 437 mph
  • First year in service: 1942
  • Number of planes made: 15,586

The Noth American P-51 is another plane that just needed one crew member, the pilot. They could reach speeds up to 437 miles per hour and were great for combat and support in the air, as well as interception, training, surveillance, reconnaissance, and intelligence.

3. Northrop F-15 Reporter

Source: Public Domain/ Wikimedia Commons
  • Maximum speed: 441 mph
  • First year in service: 1945
  • Number of planes made: 36

The Northrop F-15 held 2 crew members. These planes, able to reach speeds above 440 miles per hour, weren’t often used for fighting, but more for surveillance and reconnaissance. However, not many of them were made.

2. Vought F4U Corsair

  • Maximum speed: 446 mph
  • First year in service: 1942
  • Number of planes made: 12,571

The Vought F4U Corsair was a versatile plane that only needed a pilot. It was used for interception, air support, air combat, surveillance, reconnaissance, and intelligence. Over 12,000 of these fast planes were built during the war.

1. Lockheed P-80 / F-80 Shooting Star

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Maximum speed: 577 mph
  • First year in service: 1945
  • Number of planes made: 1,715

The Lockheed P-80 was the fastest plane during the war, soaring miles faster than other planes on this list. It reached speeds of around 577 miles per hour without a problem. As with many other planes on this list, it only needed a pilot. Thanks to its fast speeds, it was perfect for air combat and close-air support.

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