Special Report

The US Air Force's 50 Oldest Aircraft

Endrudphotography / iStock via Getty Images

The U.S. Department of Defense constantly upgrades, updates, and replaces its fleet’s aging aircraft. But sometimes it can take a long time before a satisfactory replacement weapons system can be developed and built, and in the meanwhile weapons can become older and older, sometimes 50 or 60 years.

An example of a replacemetn weapon that takes longer than expected is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The Defense Department spends about $133 million for each of these. In the federal government’s 2021 fiscal year, the F-35 program cost $1.7 billion. The F-35 program budget request for fiscal 2023 is $11 billion. Put briefly, the Air Force sees the F-35 as its workhorse fighter for the future. 

Congress and the Defense Department have run into a roadblock with the F-35, however. It does not work as well as expected. Speaking bluntly, Rep. John Garamendi commented last year: “The program is over budget. It fails to deliver on promised capabilities. And its mission capability rates do not even begin to meet the service thresholds.” He added that the F-35 had become a waste of taxpayer money. (See what the U.S. military spends the most money on.)

The Air Force hit similar hurdles with the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, which made its first flight in 1989 and was officially introduced in 1997. Among its other advantages, it has the ability to evade radar and can carry both conventional and thermonuclear weapons. Unfortunately, overruns put the cost per aircraft, including development, engineering, and testing, at over $2 billion, according to the General Accounting Office. Originally, there were to be a total of 132 B-2s. That figure only reached 21, and one of those crashed. 

The B-2 was to replace one of the oldest weapons in the U.S. Air Force arsenal, the B-52. That plane remains America’s most widely used bomber, though it first flew in 1952 and became fully operational in 1955. It can carry 70,000 pounds of bombs. Of the 744 built, 76 remain in service, and the Air Force expects the plane to remain in service until the 2050s. 

These are the the oldest aircraft in the U.S. Air Force

To determine the U.S. Air Force’s oldest aircraft, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the “2021 USAF & USSF Almanac: Equipment” published in Air Force Magazine.

Source: telegraham / E+ via Getty Images

50. B-2A Spirit
> Average age in 2021: 25.35 years
> Active inventory: 2

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49. T-1A Jayhawk
> Average age in 2021: 25.91 years
> Active inventory: 178

48. C-20H
> Average age in 2021: 26 years
> Active inventory: 1

Source: usairforce / Flickr

47. E-9A
> Average age in 2021: 28 years
> Active inventory: 2

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46. HH-60G Pave Hawk
> Average age in 2021: 28.3 years
> Active inventory: 65

45. F-15E Strike Eagle
> Average age in 2021: 28.4 years
> Active inventory: 218

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Source: usairforce / Flickr

44. VC-25A Air Force One
> Average age in 2021: 30.0 years
> Active inventory: 2

Source: Ethan Miller / Getty Images

43. F-16C Fighting Falcon
> Average age in 2021: 30.1 years
> Active inventory: 441

42. F-16D Fighting Falcon
> Average age in 2021: 30.9 years
> Active inventory: 108

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41. C-130H Hercules
> Average age in 2021: 30.9 years
> Active inventory: 2

Source: U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Westin Warburton / Public Domain

40. AC-130W Stinger II
> Average age in 2021: 31.2 years
> Active inventory: 10

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39. MC-130H Combat Talon II
> Average age in 2021: 31.9 years
> Active inventory: 16

Source: usairforce / Flickr

38. AC-130U Spooky
> Average age in 2021: 32.2 years
> Active inventory: 7

37. C-12J Huron
> Average age in 2021: 32.7 years
> Active inventory: 4

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36. C-5M Super Galaxy
> Average age in 2021: 33.3 years
> Active inventory: 36

Source: usairforce / Flickr

35. B-1B Lancer
> Average age in 2021: 33.4 years
> Active inventory: 62

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34. KC-10A Extender
> Average age in 2021: 35.1 years
> Active inventory: 56

33. C-12F Huron
> Average age in 2021: 35.3 years
> Active inventory: 3

32. C-21A Learjet
> Average age in 2021: 35.5 years
> Active inventory: 19

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Source: my_public_domain_photos / Flickr

31. F-15D Eagle
> Average age in 2021: 35.5 years
> Active inventory: 9

Source: Work of a U.S. Air Force Airman or employee/Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

30. TU-2S Dragon Lady (trainer)
> Average age in 2021: 35.9 years
> Active inventory: 4

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Source: Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

29. F-15C Eagle
> Average age in 2021: 35.9 years
> Active inventory: 88

28. C-12D Huron
> Average age in 2021: 36.4 years
> Active inventory: 6

Source: U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Chris Massey / Public Domain

27. UV-18B Twin Otter
> Average age in 2021: 36.5 years
> Active inventory: 3

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Source: U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Robert M. Trujillo / Public Domain

26. U-2S Dragon Lady
> Average age in 2021: 37.9 years
> Active inventory: 27

25. E-3C Sentry (AWACS)
> Average age in 2021: 38.0 years
> Active inventory: 1

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Source: Stocktrek Images / Stocktrek Images via Getty Images

24. A-10C Thunderbolt II
> Average age in 2021: 39.4 years
> Active inventory: 141

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

23. TH-1H Iroquois (trainer)
> Average age in 2021: 39.5 years
> Active inventory: 28

22. E-3G Sentry (AWACS)
> Average age in 2021: 40.4 years
> Active inventory: 23

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Source: U.S. Air Force / Public Domain

21. E-3B Sentry (AWACS)
> Average age in 2021: 42.5 years
> Active inventory: 11

Source: usairforce / Flickr

20. C-12C Huron
> Average age in 2021: 44.2 years
> Active inventory: 16

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Source: usairforce / Flickr

19. EC-130H Compass Call
> Average age in 2021: 46.1 years
> Active inventory: 11

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

18. E-4B NAOC
> Average age in 2021: 46.4 years
> Active inventory: 4

17. UH-1N Iroquois
> Average age in 2021: 48.6 years
> Active inventory: 63

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

16. T-41D Mescalero
> Average age in 2021: 51.1 years
> Active inventory: 4

Source: nasacommons / Flickr

15. T-38A Talon
> Average age in 2021: 54.0 years
> Active inventory: 53

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14. T-38C Talon
> Average age in 2021: 54.3 years
> Active inventory: 443

13. RC-135U Combat Sent
> Average age in 2021: 55.7 years
> Active inventory: 2

12. RC-135V Rivet Joint
> Average age in 2021: 55.9 years
> Active inventory: 8

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Source: usairforce / Flickr

11. WC-135C Constant Phoenix
> Average age in 2021: 56.4 years
> Active inventory: 1

10. RC-135W Rivet Joint
> Average age in 2021: 57.1 years
> Active inventory: 12

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Source: U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Natasha Stannard / Public Domain

9. (A)T-38B Talon
> Average age in 2021: 57.1 years
> Active inventory: 6

8. KC-135R Stratotanker
> Average age in 2021: 57.3 years
> Active inventory: 157

Source: U.S. Air Force / Public Domain

7. TC-135W (trainer)
> Average age in 2021: 58.3 years
> Active inventory: 3

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6. WC-135W Constant Phoenix
> Average age in 2021: 58.4 years
> Active inventory: 1

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

5. OC-135B Open Skies
> Average age in 2021: 58.4 years
> Active inventory: 2

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Source: U.S. Air Force / Public Domain

4. RC-135S Cobra Ball
> Average age in 2021: 58.5 years
> Active inventory: 3

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

3. NC-135W (test bed)
> Average age in 2021: 58.5 years
> Active inventory: 1

Source: Endrudphotography / iStock via Getty Images

2. B-52H Stratofortress
> Average age in 2021: 58.8 years
> Active inventory: 58

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1. KC-135T Stratotanker
> Average age in 2021: 60.6 years
> Active inventory: 30

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