Military Airplanes and Helicopters by Branch
In 1914, the United States was just starting to learn how aircraft might be used for warfare. At the time, the entire military was in possession of just six airplanes and a few hot air balloons as part of the First Aero Squadron.
Today, the United States has 13,000+ military aircraft—more than any other country on the planet. Most people may think that these aircraft are all part of the Air Force. However, all branches of the military use airplanes and helicopters in different ways to complete their missions.
Let’s take a closer look at the most important airplanes and helicopters used by each branch of the military.
Air Force Aircraft
- F-16 Fighting Falcon. This aircraft is the mainstay of the USAF’s combat fleet. There are more than 1,000 F-16s in service. The F-16 is valued by fighter pilots because of its maneuverability, accuracy, and combat radius. It can fly more than 500 miles, destroy a target, and return without needing to refuel.
- A-10 “Warthog” Thunderbolt. This aircraft is designed for low-altitude and low-speed missions. It can linger near battle areas for extended periods of time providing air cover for ground troops. The A-10 is infamous for its nose-mounted GAU-8 Avenger gatling gun, which fires armor-piercing rounds.
- U-2 Dragon Lady. If the Air Force needs to gather imagery and intelligence from behind enemy lines, the U-2 Dragon Lady is called into action. This is a single-engine, single-seater aircraft. Its sleek design and ability to fly at high altitudes (approximately 70,000 feet) enable it to enter enemy territory undetected and deploy surveillance equipment. It’s also used to survey damage and help plan rescue missions in areas hit by natural disasters.
- The Bell UH-1N Iroquois. The “Bell” is one of the most versatile helicopters used in the military. The Air Force first started using this aircraft in the 1970s and is still the go-to helicopter to airlift security forces, evacuate danger zones, provide transportation for distinguished visitors, assist in disaster response missions, and take part in nuclear convoys.
- VC-25 Air Force One/C-32 Air Force Two. The VC-25 provides transportation for the President of the United States, his staff, and travelling dignitaries. The C-32 provides transportation for the Vice President of the United States, his/her staff, and travelling dignitaries.
- UH-60 Black Hawk Helicopter. Prized for its versatility, the Army relies on the Black Hawk helicopter for transport, medevac missions, and air assaults. The Black Hawk is designed to hold 8 to 20 combat troops depending on how equipped they are in addition to the 3-person flight crew.
- CH-47D Chinook Helicopter. This is the Army’s primary heavy troop and supply helicopter, capable of transporting about 10 tons of equipment over hundreds of miles. Three machine guns can be mounted to the aircraft as needed. The Chinook also features signal jammers, flare dispensers, and a warning system that alerts the crew when they’ve entered radar zones and when enemy missiles are approaching.
- MH-6 Little Bird Helicopter. Originally designed as a scout helicopter, the Little Bird has been used as a light attack copter since the 1980s. This is a favorite among special forces units because it has proven to be a reliable and agile aircraft time and time again. It’s armed with machine guns, missiles, and has a range of 250 miles.
- UH-72A Lakota Helicopter. This dual-engine, light-duty helicopter is an unarmed aircraft used in non-hostile situations. It’s called upon for medical evacuation missions, search and rescue missions, and air transport for Army leadership as needed.
- The AH-64 Apache Longbow Helicopter. This is one of the Army’s main combat helicopters. It has radar-guided missiles, radar interference, front-mounted machine guns, and an advanced navigation system. All these features and more make it the most lethal aircraft in the Army.
- E-2C Hawkeye. Because of its long-range radar, the Hawkeye is the U.S. Navy’s primary command and control aircraft. Hawkeyes work as a team to watch for enemy aircraft and alert allies if danger is approaching. The team also monitors other Navy aircraft, directing them to strike enemy targets.
- C-40 Clipper. This aircraft is essentially a “modern airborne office” for senior Navy leaders, government leaders, legislators, and combatant commanders. First deployed in 2003, the C-40 is based off the Boeing 737 commercial airliner and includes sleep accommodations, a crew rest area, and business class seating with workstations.
- MH-60R Seahawk Helicopter. The primary mission of the Seahawk is to hunt and destroy enemy submarines. In fact, this aircraft is the cornerstone of the Navy’s anti-submarine operations. The Seahawk’s secondary missions include search and rescue, medical evacuation, logistics support, equipment transport, and more.
- MH-53E Sea Dragon Helicopter. The Sea Dragon’s main objective is minesweeping. This aircraft is capable of towing minesweeping sleds, sophisticated sonar systems, and the Mk 103 mechanical minesweeping system. All of this enables the Sea Dragon to find and diffuse mines on land and at sea. This helicopter can also be fitted with a machine gun system to provide assault support.
- EA-18G Growler. This two-seater, twin-turbofan aircraft is designed to attack and jam up enemy communications systems, including satellite communications, radio receivers, and mobile phone networks.
Marine Corps Aircraft
- AH-1Z Super Cobra Helicopter. The Super Cobra helicopter is the backbone of the USMC’s assault force. They are on-call to support Marines under enemy fire. Cobras are also used for coordinate ground attacks, with pilots hovering above battlefields and calling in positions to ground troops for mortars.
- VH-3D Sea King. Dubbed Marine One, this Aircraft is the primary short-range aircraft used by the President, Vice President, and authorized White House staff. This aircraft features state-of-the-art GPS, communications, and safety enhancements, but carries no weapons.
- CH-53E Super Stallion. In service for more than 35 years, the Super Stallion is the USMC’s heavy lift helicopter, but has surprising speed and agility as well. It can carry a 26,000-pound vehicle or 16 tons of cargo up to 50 miles. It can deploy amphibious ships and deliver hundreds of combat-ready marines onto the battlefield.
- UH-1Y Venom. The Venom is the newest addition to the Marines’ aviation fleet, replacing the UH-1N Huey. The Venom has superior control in adverse weather conditions and increased ability to withstand enemy fire. It also includes door-mounted machine guns, allowing for 360-degree support of ground troops.
- AH-1Z Viper Helicopter. This assault helicopter has played a major role in every major conflict the since the Vietnam War. It’s highly versatile, able to deliver multiple missiles, cannon fire, and machine gun fire on targets that are often inaccessible to other aircraft. Today it continues to be a precise, reliable aircraft with advanced navigation, weaponry, and communication capabilities.
Coast Guard Aircraft
- MH-65 Dolphin Helicopter. With more than 100 of these units in inventory, the Dolphin is the Coast Guard’s primary rescue helicopter because it operates exceptionally well in all weather conditions, at night, and when visibility is low.
- HU-25 Guardian. This aircraft has outstanding radar capabilities and can reach incredible speeds, which is why it’s the Coast Guard’s go-to aircraft for search and rescue, environmental protection, and law enforcement missions.
- HC-144A Ocean Sentry. The HC-144A is the Coast Guard’s main choice for coastline and border surveillance. It is highly efficient and can locate small targets in large search areas, which makes it ideal for long patrols.
- HC-130J. This aircraft has undergone upgrades in recent years enabling it to fly higher, go farther, and respond more quickly when needed. Currently, there are six of these aircraft in the USCG’s inventory and they’re often used for counter-narcotics and search and rescue missions.
- C-37A. Based on the civilian Gulfstream V executive jet, the C-37A is used by the Coast Guard Commandant, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and other U.S. Officials for official travel.
The Strength of the U.S. Military’s Airplanes and Helicopters
It’s certainly clear that the U.S. military has the most versatile and powerful aircraft in the world.
We discussed many of the most important types of aircraft in this article, but rest assured that the military’s aircraft inventory doesn’t end with this list. There are dozens more types of aircraft that the military uses to protect American citizens every day.
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Dr. Phillip Gold is President/CEO of Empire Resume and has vast experience writing resumes for both professionals and servicemembers transitioning from the military into civilian roles. He served as a Captain in the U.S. Air Force and was responsible for leading nuclear missile security. Phillip is a Certified Professional Resume Writer and holds a BA in Communications from The Ohio State University, an MS in Instructional Technology, an MBA in Finance, and a PhD in Finance.