Special Report

The 24 Planes That Form the Backbone of the US Air Force

Amid the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, the U.S. Air Force is actively engaged in bolstering NATO allies’ defense against potential further aggression. U.S. fighter jets, as part of the world’s premier air force, have been strategically deployed near the Baltic Sea region to safeguard NATO’s eastern borders.

The United States Air Force stands as one of the globe’s most dominant and adaptable aerial combat forces, boasting a diverse array of aircraft to maintain its superiority. Here is a look at some of its most common aircraft.

To identify the 25 most common planes in active service in the U.S. Air Force, 24/7 Wall St. referenced the 2023 report, World Air Forces, from FlightGlobal, an aviation and aerospace industry website. We ranked aircrafts by the number of units in active service, considering only those with more than 25 units. Supplemental data regarding the type of aircraft, how many are in active service, and how many are on order came from FlightGlobal. Data on each aircraft’s first flight came from various military and historical sources.

At the heart of U.S. aerial warfare capabilities is its extensive fleet of multi-role fighters. Among the most abundant in the Air Force are the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon and the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle/Strike Eagle. These aircraft excel in both air-to-air and air-to-ground combat missions.

Presently, the U.S. Air Force operates over 770 F-16 Fighting Falcons and more than 400 F-15 Eagles. The F-15 Eagle, a twin-engine, all-weather tactical fighter, fulfills various roles, including air dominance and ground attack capabilities. Variants of the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the F-15 Eagle further contribute to their prominence. (See if these are among the world’s 20 fastest warplanes.)

The Air Force also fields fifth-generation fighters, such as the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II, representing the pinnacle of stealth, avionics, and overall capabilities. The F-35 Lightning II program is poised to become one of the most extensively deployed aircraft within the Air Force, given the substantial orders for the upcoming years. Presently, there are more than 300 F-35 Lightning IIs in active service, with over 1,400 additional units on order. Leveraging evolving technologies, the F-35 Lightning II is expected to play a pivotal role in the U.S. Air Force, eventually supplanting many older aircraft. (These are the most expensive planes in the U.S. Air Force.)

The wide range of aircraft ensures that the Air Force remains versatile and well prepared to confront challenging situations across different terrains and operational requirements. 

Here is a look at the 25 most numerous planes within the U.S. Air Force.

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