F14 Tomcat

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The F-14 Tomcat represented the dawning of a new age of fighter aircraft. Its technology and capability vastly overpowered traditional military planes and the fighter’s impact remains apparent even today. The F-14A debuted on December 21, 1970 and after several years of modifications it became the foremost carrier-based fighter aircraft in the United States Navy. Though the F-14 had already gained recognition in its own right, the film Top Gun which starred Tom Cruise as an F-14 naval aviator, cemented the plane’s role in popular culture.

One of the Tomcat’s strengths is its ability to accurately deliver ordnance against multiple targets simultaneously. The F-14’s six long-range Phoenix missiles can be automatically directed at separate targets using the onboard weapons control computer system. In addition to the Phoenix missiles, the F-14 can carry Sparrow medium-range missiles and close-up 20 mm cannon and Sidewinder missiles. The F-14 was versatile in the combination of missiles, guns, and bombs it could carry, which gave it the ability to customize its armament to suit a particular mission. The swept wing design of the Tomcat creates its trademark look, but the wings are versatile and can be extended or retracted for optimum performance.

Though originally expected to remain in service until at least 2009, the United States military retired the F-14 from service on September 22, 2006.

During the Shah of Iran’s reign, Grumman sold the country 80 F-14 Tomcats in addition to spare parts and armament for $2 billion. When the Shah was overthrown by Islamic militants, the United States placed an embargo on further sales of F-14s and parts to Iran. However, several of the original F-14 Tomcats sold to the Shah are still flying for the current Iranian Air Force.

Maximum speed: 1,544 mph
Cruise speed: 576 mph
Range: 576 mi
Ceiling: 56,000 feet
Length: 62 feet 7 inches
Wingspan: 64 feet unswept; 38 feet swept
Height: 16 feet
Maximum weight: 74,348 lb
Empty weight: 40,104 lb
Engine(s): Two Pratt and Whitney TF-30-P412A turbofan engines with afterburners
Rate of climb: 45,000 feet per minute
Crew: Two
Armament: Combination of missiles, Gatling gun, and bombs
Contractor: Grumman Aerospace

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F16 Falcon

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Since its inception in 1975, more than 4,000 F-16 Fighting Falcons in 110 versions have been produced. In addition to the United States Air Force, 24 additional countries have chosen the fourth-generation fighter to serve in their military. Some countries have purchased used F-16s from those mothballed by the U.S. Air Force.

The F-16 Fighting Falcon is capable of flying missions in total darkness and under difficult weather conditions. It was the first fighter plane to use fly-by-wire electronic flight controls with angle of attack and limiting Gs. These features enable the pilot to perform aggressive maneuvers without risk of structural failure or loss of control.

The F-16 has a solid reputation as a superior dogfighter. The frameless canopy enables improved pilot visibility and the side-mounted stick maximizes pilot control even when under tremendous G-forces. In fact, the F-16 Fighting Falcon can capably endure 9G turns!

Primarily, the F-16 has been deployed in Middle Eastern conflicts, more so than in most other conflicts situations. Israel has used F-16s against Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon beginning in 1981. During the Soviet-Afghan War, Pakistan used F-16s to destroy Afghan and Soviet aircraft.

The Fighting Falcon flew for the United States in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm and again in 1998 when Operation Desert Fox required an extensive number of bombing sorties. From 2001 until present day, the Falcon has seen service in Afghanistan for the U.S. military. In 2003, Operation Iraqi Freedom relied heavily on the F-14 when U.S. forces invaded Iraq.

The F-16 Fighting Falcon remains in production and modifications continue. Some of the more recent changes have involved replacing the older avionics with new technology as well as replacing some of the antiquated weaponry with more effective armament. Here are some basic specifications for the General Dynamics F-16:

Maximum speed: Mach 2+
Range: 3,200+ miles
Ceiling: 55,000+ ft
Length: 49 ft 5 in
Wingspan: 32 ft 8 in
Height: 16 ft
Maximum weight: 42,300 lb
Empty weight: 18,238 lb
Engine(s): one Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-220 or one General Electric F110-GE-100 afterburning turbofan
Rate of climb: 50,000 feet per minute
Crew: One
Armament: Combination of guns, missiles, rockets, and bombs
Contractor: General Dynamics

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F4F Wildcat

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The F4F Wildcat was originally designed as a biplane in 1935, but was soon modified as a single-wing fighter with a supercharged Pratt & Whitney radial engine. The Wildcat was the only U.S. Navy fighter to serve for the entire duration of World War II.

The F4F’s primary opponent was the Japanese Zero, a superior airplane that flew faster and with greater maneuverability, though was less rugged than the Wildcat. What made the difference for the Allies was the skill and training of the Wildcat pilots. Their victory to loss ratio of 7:1 made a tremendous difference in the Pacific theater and the airplane is credited with helping to keep the Allies in the war during the dark days of 1942.

Various versions of the F4F became a mainstay of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. In April of 1941, Grumman completed production of the F4F-4, a manually operated folded wing version of the Wildcat. This made the aircraft even more valuable as a carrier-based fighter because in its folded wing state it took up less room, which meant additional planes could fit on board, as many as 50% more. The price paid was a heavier plane with slightly less speed than previous versions of the F4F. The Wildcat often worked side by side with another carrier fighter, the TBF Avenger.

General Motors’ Eastern Aircraft Division took over production of the F4F in April of 1942. The reason for this was that Grumman had their hands full with producing the F6F and couldn’t keep up with the wartime production needs of the existing Wildcat. Eastern Aircraft made slight modifications to the Wildcat’s design, including removing two of the guns and the Wildcat was reborn as the FM-1.

The total number of all versions of Wildcats manufactured was 7,722.

Maximum speed: 320 mph
Range: 830 mi
Ceiling: 34,000 ft
Length: 28 ft 9 in
Wingspan: 38 ft
Height: 11 ft 4 in
Maximum weight: 7,975 lb
Empty weight: 5,895 lb
Engine(s): 1,200 hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830-86
Rate of climb: 1,950 ft/min
Crew: One
Armament: Two 100 lb bombs, six 0.5 in. machine guns
Contractor: Grumman

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P-40 Warhawk

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The P-40 Warhawk is one of the most famous planes of World War II. Curtis based its design on the P-36, and made its inaugural flight on October 14, 1938. In May of 1939, the P-40 earned the largest order ever made for a U.S. fighter aircraft of that time.

The P-40, as a single-engine pursuit aircraft, entered World War II with the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces. Maj. Pappy Boyington, and other American pilots who were collectively known as the Flying Tigers, flew the P-40 in China in early 1942 with great success and earned a proud war record.

In addition, the P-40 served in the 99th Fighter Squadron, an African-American unit that flew for the United States military in North Africa during WW II. The P-40 Warhawk also fought in Italy, the Far East, the Southwest Pacific, the Aleutians, and Russia.

The P-40 was not the fastest airplane, nor could it always match enemy planes in rate of climb or maneuverability. For instance, though the aircraft could out-turn the Messerschmitt 109, the P-40 couldn’t keep up with one if it climbed away.

In an effort to improve the Warhawk’s speed, many American and Russian pilots removed as much weight from the plane as possible. This often included taking out at least one of the wing guns. For what the plane lacked in speed and power, the P-40 made up for in toughness. The P-40 could take a beating and still bring her pilot home. During the early days of World War II, a large number of P-40 pilots became aces.

Before the P-40 was retired in June of 1948, more than 14,000 of the aircraft had been manufactured for 28 different countries. The P-40 was eventually retired from all military forces when, in 1958, the Brazilian Air Force took the last of this great warbird permanently out of service.

Maximum speed: 362 mph
Cruise speed: 235 mph
Range: 850 miles
Ceiling: 30,000 feet
Length: 31 feet, 9 inches
Wingspan: 37 feet, 4 inches
Height: 12 feet, 4 inches
Maximum weight: 9,100 pounds
Empty weight: 6,350 lbs
Engine(s): 1,150 hp Allison V-1710
Crew: 1
Armament: 700 pounds of bombs and six .50-cal. machine guns
Contractor: Curtis

P51 Mustang

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The P-51 Mustang was a long-range, high-speed fighter airplane that played a critical role for Allied forces in World War II. North American Aviation produced the first prototype and the Mustang completed its inaugural flight on October 26, 1940.

It was the Royal Air Force (RAF) that first expressed interest in the MK I Mustang. After they ordered 620 of the aircraft, the United States Air Force (USAAF) eventually ordered 150, but not before several modifications were incorporated into the Mustang’s design. As changes were made, the USAAF continued to stock their forces with the increasingly powerful and armament-enhanced fighter plane. A total of 14,819 P-51 Mustangs were produced for the U.S. Army.

When the original Allison engine was replaced with a supercharged Merlin 61 engine in 1942, the Mustang became unequaled in performance for speed and range. However, the engine change was not without some adjustment problems for pilots accustomed to the older, less powerful P-38 that was a little easier to handle.

The appearance of the P-51 Mustang in World War II came at a critical time, when American bomber losses were heavy. The primary reason for that was the lack of fighter escort deep into enemy territory. Until the Mustang arrived, no Allied fighter had the range to accompany the bombers for any great distance.

The effect of the Mustangs was immediate, so much so that the bomber crews took to calling them “Little Friends” because they all but guaranteed effective protection from enemy fighters. The number of Allied bombers lost decreased dramatically.

In addition to their long-range escort function, P-51 Mustangs were also used for photo-reconnaissance, ground attack, trainers, and as dive-bombers, boasting the following spec’s:

Maximum speed: 448 mph
Cruise speed: 360 mph
Range: 950 miles – 2,100 miles with auxiliary fuel tanks
Ceiling: 41,900 feet
Length: 32 feet. 3 inches
Wingspan: 37 feet. 1 inch
Height: 13 feet 8 inches
Maximum weight: 11,600 lb
Empty weight: 7,125 lb
Engine(s): Rolls-Royce Merlin V-1650-7
Rate of climb: 3,745 ft. per minute
Crew: One
Armament: two 500 lb bombs, six 0.5 machine guns, eight HVAR rockets
Contractor: North American Aviation