Military

The Oldest and Most Cutting Edge Stealth Aircraft Flown Today

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Stealth aircraft have many benefits for militaries around the globe. They are used to release weapons deep into enemy territory and to gather reconnaissance. Since they’re hard to see and detect, these aircraft are highly sought after, and the production of a new model is always big news. For example, on June 4, 2024, Airbus revealed a new stealth aircraft made to be unmanned and act as support, called the Wingman.

It’s not just stealth aircraft that are constantly being built, but all military vehicles. (These are the world’s future military aircraft.) In fact, stealth aircraft are rather rare. There have only been a handful of planes developed explicitly as stealth aircraft, and then there are even fewer manufacturers capable of building these aircraft. As such, these are highly sought after by militaries around the world, even if these are not the newest up-to-date stealth models.

To identify the oldest and newest stealth planes in world militaries or on order, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the report 2023 World Air Forces from FlightGlobal, an aviation and aerospace industry website, as well as other sources. We ordered these stealth aircraft, including uncrewed aerial vehicles and aircraft on order, chronologically. Supplemental data regarding the type of aircraft, top speed, manufacturer, and armament came from Military Factory. Data on notable countries that operate these aircraft came from FlightGlobal. (These are the 42 most popular fighter jets used in today’s air forces.)

Here is a look at the oldest and most cutting-edge aircraft still used to this day:

Why We’re Discussing Stealth Aircraft

Source: Kevin Moloney / Getty Images

Covert air operations began in World War I with militaries attempting to reduce the visibility or sound of their aircraft. Technology in this regard has made leaps and bounds since the First World War. Companies that manufacture these jets for the military, like Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT), make billions in sales every year, and it’s worth understanding how these companies operate if you’re considering investing in them.

1. A-12 Archangel

cold war. Flag of the Soviet Union (1922-1991). American Flag (50 stars). For basemap or background use. double exposure hologram
Source: Andy.LIU / Shutterstock.com
  • Top speed: 2,212 mph
  • Countries that use this aircraft: United States
  • Year first used: 1963

The A-12 Archangel was used by the CIA to spy on the Soviet Union. It was first made in 1963 and served as a stealth aircraft made to handle high altitudes without a problem. Since it was solely for stealth, it didn’t feature any weapons. It was also fast, going over 2,000 miles per hour. Lockheed is the company in charge of manufacturing this stealth aircraft.

2. SR-71 Blackbird

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  • Maximum speed: 2,274 mph
  • Countries that use this aircraft: United States
  • Year first used: 1966

The SR-71 Blackbird came out a few years after the A-12 above. It goes about the same speed, though it can occasionally travel faster. Like the A-12, it was made for high altitude and speed. Lockheed is also responsible for this aircraft, which has no weapons either.

3. AQM-91 Firefly

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Maximum speed: 505 mph
  • Countries that use this aircraft: United States
  • Year first used: 1968

The AQM-91 Firefly operates at much slower speeds than the first two aircraft on this list, but that’s because it’s a different style. Instead of being a high-speed stealth plane, it’s a reconnaissance drone. It also has no weapons and was designed by Ryan Aeronautical and Teledyne-Ryan in 1968.

4. F-117 Nighthawk

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  • Maximum speed: 646 mph
  • Countries that use this aircraft: United States
  • Year first used: 1982

The F-117 Nighthawk is a stealth aircraft designed for attacking enemies and locations without ever being caught. Because they’re used as a weapon, they have laser-guided bombs, drop bombs, Maverick missiles, Sidewinder missiles, and HARM anti-radiation missiles. This aircraft was made for the United States by Lockheed in 1982.

5. B-2 Spirit

  • Maximum speed: 628 mph
  • Countries that use this aircraft: United States
  • Year first used: 1997

The B-2 Spirit is a Northrop Grumman design. Despite being a heavy bomber plane, it’s made for strategic and stealthy attacks. It’s loaded with weapons like free-fall nuclear bombs, drop bombs, joint direct attack munitions, air-to-surface missiles, and cruise missiles.

6. J-11 Flanker B+

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Maximum speed: 1,553 mph
  • Countries that use this aircraft: China
  • Year first used: 1998

China also has its fair share of stealth aircraft. The J-11 Flanker B+ is a stealth plane created by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation and the Aviation Industry Corporation of China. It’s a stealth plane that also doubles as a 4th generation air superiority fighter with 30mm GSh-30-1 internal cannon, air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, air-to-surface missiles, laser-guided bombs, conventional drop bombs, cluster bombs, and rocket pods.

7. F-22 Raptor

  • Maximum speed: 1,599 mph
  • Countries that use this aircraft: United States
  • Year first used: 2005

Built in 2005 by Lockheed Martin and Boeing for the United States, this is a fifth-generation air dominance fighter. The F-22 Raptor is stacked with weapons such as a 20mm internal automatic canon, Sidewinder missiles, AMRAAM missiles, joint direct attack munitions, air-launched cruise missiles, and guided bombs.

8. RQ-170 Sentinel

  • Maximum speed: 590 mph
  • Countries that use this aircraft: United States
  • Year first used: 2007

This aircraft was made for the United States in 2007 by Lockheed Martin. It doesn’t go very fast, but considering it’s an unmanned vehicle, it does well. There’s not much known about this aircraft, including whether or not it has a weapon, but it’s mainly for collecting information.

9. J-16 Red Eagle

  • Maximum speed: 1,522 mph
  • Countries that use this aircraft: China
  • Year first used: 2013

The J-16 Red Eagle is another Chinese stealth aircraft. This one is more modern, built in 2013, and can handle speeds above 1,500 miles per hour. Like the last Chinese one, it’s a fourth-generation strike fighter aircraft and features weapons like anti-radiation missiles, rocket pods, anti-ship missiles, laser-guided munitions, drop bombs, internal cannons, and several types of air missiles. It was made by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation and Aviation Industry Corporation of China.

10. RQ-180

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Maximum speed: 590 mph
  • Countries that use this aircraft: United States
  • Year first used: 2015

The RQ-180 is a United States aircraft made by Northrop Grumman. It was made in 2015 and is an unmanned aerial vehicle made for stealth. It doesn’t feature any weapons and manages top speeds of almost 600 miles per hour.

11. WZ-10 Cloud Shadow

  • Maximum speed: 390 mph
  • Countries that use this aircraft: China
  • Year first used: 2016

Cloud Shadow is a Chinese aircraft made in 2016 by the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group. It’s a rather slow unmanned aerial vehicle, with a top speed below 400 miles per hour. However, unlike many unmanned aerial vehicles on this list, it includes air-to-surface missiles, light cruise missiles, and precision-guided bombs.

12. F-35 Lightning II

  • Maximum speed: 1,199 mph
  • Countries that use this aircraft: Canada, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, United States
  • Year first used: 2016

Many countries use the F-35 Lightning II, including Israel, Italy, Japan, and the United States. This is a fifth-generation strike fighter and a fighter-bomber aircraft made by Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin. It features a wide range of weapons, including Rockeye II cluster bombs, joint direct attack munitions, guided bombs, air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles, and Sidewinder missiles.

13. J-20 Black Eagle

  • Maximum speed: 1,305 mph
  • Countries that use this aircraft: China
  • Year first used: 2017

The J-20 Black Eagle is a Chinese aircraft by the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group and Aviation Industry Corporation of China. It’s a fifth-generation multirole stealth aircraft with internal cannons, air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, anti-radiation missiles, laser-guided bombs, and conventional drop bombs.

14. GJ-11 Gongji

  • Maximum speed: 621 mph
  • Countries that use this aircraft: China
  • Year first used: 2019

The GJ-11 Gongji is a plane by the State Factories for China in 2019. It’s another unmanned combat aerial vehicle that goes at a fairly impressive speed of over 600 miles per hour. It also has a few weapons, including laser-guided bombs, drop bombs, and air-to-surface missiles.

15. Su-57 Felon

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  • Maximum speed: 1,616 mph
  • Countries that use this aircraft: Russia
  • Year first used: 2019

Su-57 Felon is a Russian aircraft made by Sukhoi OKB and the United Aircraft Corporation. It’s a Fifth-generation multirole stealth aircraft. It also features several weapons, including an internal cannon, air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, and guided bombs.

16. XQ-58 Valkyrie

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Maximum speed: 652 mph
  • Countries that use this aircraft: United States
  • Year first used: 2020

This unmanned combat aerial vehicle was developed in 2020 for the United States by the Kratos unmanned systems division. It’s made for precisely dropping bombs and regular drop bombs. It goes up to 652 miles per hour.

17. CH-7

  • Maximum speed: 550 mph
  • Countries that use this aircraft: China
  • Year first used: 2022

In 2022, the Chinese Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation for China. It is made for high altitude and long endurance. The plane is used for stealth combat and features weapons like air-to-surface missiles, anti-radiation missiles, precision-guided bombs, and drop bombs.

18. Su-75 Checkmate

  • Maximum speed: 808 mph
  • Countries that use this aircraft: Russia
  • Year first used: Expected in 2026

This is the first aircraft on this list that isn’t out as of yet. The Su-75 Checkmate by Sukhoi OKB and Rostek State Corporation will be a Russian aircraft. It’s a fifth-generation multirole stealth aircraft featuring weapons like internal cannons, air-to-surface missiles, air-to-air missiles, laser-guided bombs, and conventional drop bombs.

19. B-21 Raider

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Maximum speed: 621 mph
  • Countries that use this aircraft: United States
  • Year first used: Expected in 2028

This Northrop Grumman stealth aircraft, designed for the United States is expected to come out in 2028. It’s a sixth-generation stealth bomber made to travel long distances and features precision-guided drop bombs, conventional drop bombs, and nuclear ordnance.

20. Tupolev PAK DA

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Maximum speed: 559 mph
  • Countries that use this aircraft: Russia
  • Year first used: Expected in 2032

Russia has a second stealth aircraft in the works, though it’s much further out. The Tupolv PAK DA is made by Tupolev and the United Aircraft Corporation. It will feature weapons like air-launched cruise missiles, precision-guided bombs, and conventional drop bombs.

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