Airplanes first became a weapon of war in World War I. Initially, the planes were used to scout out enemy positions from the air. As the conflict progressed, the aircrafts were repurposed for aerial combat with mounted machine guns, giving rise to WWI flying aces. (These are the greatest fighter pilots in aviation history.)
Since then, military aircraft have evolved considerably. Today, demonstrating air superiority with increasingly more sophisticated fighter jets is an essential element of warfare. No military force can win a war without controlling the skies. Gaining an advantage in the air depends on how fast the plane can fly. Fighter planes that can whip across the skies at tremendous speeds can evade enemy missiles and hit their target sooner. (Is the fighter jet among the 30 inventions that shaped military history?)
The U.S. military has some of the fastest war planes on the planet. To determine the fastest war planes in the U.S. military, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed a list of U.S. military aircraft from Military Factory, an online database of military vehicles, aircraft, arms, and more. We ranked all aircraft according to their top speed, choosing the 20 fastest. Supplemental information on the military branch using the aircraft and the aircraft’s role came from the World Directory of Modern Military Aircraft. First flown dates came from both WDMMA and from Military Factory.
Six of the 20 fastest planes are classified as trainers, or aircraft used to train pilots on complex aircraft. Others are fighters, refuelers, or tankers. Some are deployed for special missions.
The fastest plane – the Boeing F-15 Eagle – is a trainer and reaches a top speed of 1,875 miles per hour, far more than twice the speed of sound or nearly Mach 2.5. The all-weather aircraft is an extremely maneuverable, tactical fighter, according to the U.S. Air Force.
Second is the Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle, a fighter that can fly at 1,653 mph, or over Mach 2. Designed for air-to-air and air-to-ground combat missions, the F-15E Strike Eagle can fly at low altitudes in all weather. It can be deployed for day and night operations.
The “slowest” aircraft on the list is the McDonnell Douglas KC-10 Extender, an aerial tanker and refueler transport. It tops out at 600 mph, about the same as large commercial jets with top speeds of 550 to 580 mph. The majority of commercial planes are much slower at 160 to 180 mph.
Click here to see the fastest planes in the US Military.
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