In 1783, when the first practical aircraft (hot-air and hydrogen balloons) were established, they were quickly adopted for military duties. The first military balloon unit was the French Aerostatic Corps, who in 1794 flew an observation balloon during the Battle of Fleurus, the first major battle to feature aerial observation. Balloons continued to be used throughout the 19th Century, including in the Napoleonic Wars and the Franco-Prussian war, for observation and propaganda distribution. During the First World War, German Zeppelin airships carried out multiple air raids on British cities, as well as being used for observation. In the 1920s, the US Navy acquired several non-rigid airships, the first one to see service being the K-1 in 1931. Use by the US as well as other countries continued into the Second World War, the US Navy finally retiring its last balloons in 1962.
Soon after the first flight of the Wright Flyer, several militaries became interested in powered aircraft. In 1909 the US Army purchased the Wright Military Flyer, a two-seat observation aircraft, for the Aeronautical Division, U.S. Signal Corps. It served until 1911, by which time powered aircraft had become an important feature in several armies around the world.
Combat aircraft, or "Warplanes", are divided broadly into multi-role, fighters, bombers, attackers, and electronic warfare support.
Variations exist between them, including fighter-bombers, such as the MiG-23 ground-attack aircraft and the Soviet Ilyushin Il-2 Shturmovik. Also included among combat aircraft are long-range maritime patrol aircraft, such as the Hawker Siddeley Nimrod and the S-3 Viking that are often equipped to attack with anti-ship missiles and anti-submarine weapons.
The primary role of fighters is destroying enemy aircraft in air-to-air combat, as part of both offensive and defensive counter air operations. Many fighters also possess a degree of ground attack capability, allowing them to perform surface attack and close air support missions. In addition to their counter air duties they are tasked to perform escort mission for bombers or other aircraft. Fighters are capable of carrying a variety of weapons, including machine guns, cannons, rockets, guided missiles, and bombs. Many modern fighters can attack enemy fighters from a great distance, before the enemy even sees or detects them. Examples of fighters include the F-22 Raptor, F-15 Eagle, and Su-27.
Bombers are normally larger, heavier, and less maneuverable than fighter aircraft. They are capable of carrying large payloads of bombs, torpedoes or cruise missiles. Bombers are used almost exclusively for ground attacks and not fast or agile enough to take on enemy fighters head-to-head. A few have a single engine and require one pilot to operate and others have two or more engines and require crews of two or more. A limited number of bombers, such as the B-2 Spirit, have stealth capabilities that keep them from being detected by enemy radar. An example of a conventional modern bomber would be the B-52 Stratofortress. An example of a World War II bomber would be a B-17 Flying Fortress. Bombers include light bombers, medium bombers, heavy bombers, dive bombers, and torpedo bombers.
Attack aircraft can be used to provide support for friendly ground troops. Some are able to carry conventional or nuclear weapons far behind enemy lines to strike priority ground targets. Attack helicopters attack enemy armor and provide close air support for ground troops. An example historical ground-attack aircraft is the Soviet Ilyushin Il-2 Shturmovik. Several types of transport airplanes have been armed with sideways firing weapons as gunships for ground attack. These include the AC-47 and AC-130 aircraft.
An electronic warfare aircraft is a military aircraft equipped for electronic warfare (EW) - i.e. degrading the effectiveness of enemy radar and radio systems. They are generally modified versions of other pre-existing aircraft. A recent example would be the Boeing EA-18G Growler, which is a modified version of the Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet.
A maritime patrol aircraft fixed-wing military aircraft designed to operate for long durations over water in maritime patrol roles—in particular anti-submarine, anti-ship and search and rescue. Some patrol aircraft were designed for this purpose, like the Kawasaki P-1. Many others are modified designs of pre-existing aircraft, such as the Boeing P-8 Poseidon, which is based on the Boeing 737-800 airliner.
Many combat aircraft today have a multirole ability. Normally only applying to fixed-wing aircraft, this term signifies that the plane in question can be a fighter or a bomber, depending on what the mission calls for. An example of a multirole design is the F-15E Strike Eagle, F/A-18 Hornet, F-35 Lightning II. A World War II example would be the P-38 Lightning.
Many civil aircraft, both fixed wing and rotary wing, have been produced in separate models for military use, such as the civilian Douglas DC-3 airliner, which became the military C-47 Skytrain, and British "Dakota" transport planes, and decades later, the USAF's AC-47 aerial gunships. Even the fabric-covered two-seat Piper J3 Cub had a military version. Gliders and balloons have also been used as military aircraft; for example, balloons were used for observation during the American Civil War and during World War I, and military gliders were used during World War II to deliver ground troops in airborne assaults.
Military transport (logistics) aircraft are primarily used to transport troops and war supplies. Cargo can be attached to pallets, which are easily loaded, secured for flight, and quickly unloaded for delivery. Cargo also may be discharged from flying aircraft on parachutes, eliminating the need for landing. Also included in this category are aerial tankers; these planes can refuel other aircraft while in flight. An example of a transport aircraft is the C-17 Globemaster III. A World War II example would be the C-47. An example of a tanker craft would be the KC-135 Stratotanker. Helicopters and gliders can transport troops and supplies to areas where other aircraft would be unable to land.
Calling a military aircraft a "cargo plane" is incorrect, because military transport planes also carry paratroopers and other soldiers.
An airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) system is an airborne radar system designed to detect aircraft, ships and ground vehicles at long ranges and control and command the battle space in an air engagement by directing fighter and attack aircraft strikes. AEW&C units are also used to carry out surveillance, including over ground targets and frequently perform C2BM (command and control, battle management) functions similar to an Airport Traffic Controller given military command over other forces. Used at a high altitude, the radars on the aircraft allow the operators to distinguish between friendly and hostile aircraft hundreds of miles away.
AEW&C aircraft are used for both defensive and offensive air operations, and are to the NATO and USA forces trained or integrated Air Forces what the Command Information Center is to a Navy Warship, plus a highly mobile and powerful radar platform. The system is used offensively to direct fighters to their target locations, and defensively in order to counterattacks by enemy forces, both air and ground. So useful is the advantage of command and control from a high altitude, the United States Navy operates AEW&C aircraft off its Supercarriers to augment and protect its carrier Command Information Centers (CICs).
AEW&C is also known by the older terms "airborne early warning" (AEW) and "airborne warning and control system" (AWACS, /ˈeɪwæks/ ay-waks) although AWACS is the name of a specific system currently used by NATO and the USAF and is often used in error to describe similar systems.
Reconnaissance aircraft are primarily used to gather intelligence. They are equipped with cameras and other sensors. These aircraft may be specially designed or may be modified from a basic fighter or bomber type. This role is increasingly being filled by satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
Surveillance and observation aircraft use radar and other sensors for battlefield surveillance, airspace surveillance, maritime patrol and artillery spotting. They include modified civil aircraft designs, moored balloons and UAVs.
Experimental aircraft are designed in order to test advanced aerodynamic, structural, avionic, or propulsion concepts. These are usually well instrumented, with performance data telemetered on radio-frequency data links to ground stations located at the test ranges where they are flown. An example of an experimental aircraft is the Bristol 188.
The Tri-Service aircraft designation system is a unified system introduced in 1962 by the United States Department of Defense for designating all U.S. military aircraft. Prior to then, the U.S. armed services used separate nomenclature systems.
Under the tri-service designation system, officially introduced on 18 September 1962, almost all aircraft receive a unified designation, whether they are operated by the United States Air Force (USAF), United States Navy (USN), United States Marine Corps (USMC), United States Army, or United States Coast Guard (USCG). Experimental aircraft operated by manufacturers or by NASA are also often assigned designations from the X-series of the tri-service system.The 1962 system was based on the one used by the USAF between 1948 and 1962, which was in turn based on the Type, Model, Series USAAS/USAAC/USAAF system used from 1924 to 1948. The 1962 system has been modified and updated since introduction.List of Interwar military aircraft
Interwar military aircraft are military aircraft that were developed and used between World War I and World War II, also known as the Golden Age of Aviation.
For the purposes of this list this is defined as aircraft that entered service into any country's military after the armistice on 11 November 1918 and before the Invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939.
Aircraft are listed alphabetically by their country of origin. Civilian aircraft modified for military use are included but those that remained primarily civilian aircraft are not.List of United States naval aircraft
Naval aircraft currently used by the United States Navy and the United States Marine Corps. For a complete list of naval aircraft designated under the pre-1962 United States Navy designation system, see List of military aircraft of the United States (naval). For a list of naval aircraft designated under the post-1962 unified Department of Defence designations, see List of military aircraft of the United States.List of World War I Central Powers aircraft
This is a list of military aircraft used by the Central Powers in World War IList of World War I Entente aircraft
This is a list of World War I Entente aircraft organized by country of origin. Dates are of first flight.List of accidents and incidents involving military aircraft
A list of the accidents and incidents involving military aircraft in chronological order.
See: List of accidents and incidents involving military aircraft before 1925
See: List of accidents and incidents involving military aircraft (1925–1934)
See: List of accidents and incidents involving military aircraft (1935–1939)
See: List of accidents and incidents involving military aircraft (1940–1942)
See: List of accidents and incidents involving military aircraft (1943–1944)
See: List of accidents and incidents involving military aircraft (1945–1949)
See: List of accidents and incidents involving military aircraft (1950–1954)
See: List of accidents and incidents involving military aircraft (1955–1959)
See: List of accidents and incidents involving military aircraft (1960–1974)
See: List of accidents and incidents involving military aircraft (1975–1979)
See: List of accidents and incidents involving military aircraft (1980–1989)
See: List of accidents and incidents involving military aircraft (1990–1999)
See: List of accidents and incidents involving military aircraft (2000–2009)
See: List of accidents and incidents involving military aircraft (2010–present)List of active Bangladesh military aircraft
Active Bangladesh military aircraft is a list of military aircraft that are used by the Bangladesh Armed Forces. For aircraft no longer in-service see List of historic Bangladesh military aircraft.
Approximately 80 aircraft and five Mil Mi-17 were destroyed by the devastating 1991 Bangladesh cyclone.List of active Indian military aircraft
The following list of active Indian military aircraft is a list of military aircraft currently in service or on order with the Indian Armed Forces. For a list of historical aircraft used by the Indian military, see list of historical aircraft of the Indian Air Force.List of active People's Liberation Army aircraft
The following list of active People's Liberation Army aircraft is a list of military aircraft currently in service with four branches of the People's Liberation Army. For retired aircraft, see list of historic aircraft of the People's Liberation Army Air Force.List of active Russian military aircraft
This is a list of active Russian military aircraft.List of active United Kingdom military aircraft
This is a list of military aircraft currently in service with the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom.List of active United States military aircraft
Active United States military aircraft is a list of military aircraft that are used by the United States military. For aircraft no longer in-service see the list of military aircraft of the United States.List of military aircraft of the United States
This list of military aircraft of the United States includes prototype, pre-production, and operational types. For aircraft in service, see the list of active United States military aircraft. Prototypes are normally prefixed with "X" and are often unnamed (note that these are not the same as the experimental X-planes, which are not generally expected to go into production), while pre-production models are usually prefixed with "Y".
The United States military employs a designation and naming system to provide identifications to all aircraft types. Until 1962, the United States Army, United States Air Force (formerly Army Air Force), and United States Navy all maintained separate systems. In September 1962, these were unified into a single system heavily reflecting the Air Force method. For more complete information on the workings of this system, refer to United States Department of Defense Aerospace Vehicle Designations.
This list does not include aircraft used by the U.S. military services prior to the establishment of a numerical designation system. For these aircraft, see List of military aircraft of the United States (1909–1919). It also does not include aircraft designated under the pre-1962 United States Navy designation system. For these aircraft, see List of military aircraft of the United States (naval).List of military aircraft of the United States (1909–19)
This list of military aircraft of the United States (1909–1919) includes prototype, pre-production and operational types operated by the United States Army and United States Navy during the period prior to and during World War I, prior to the establishment of a numerical designation system. During this period, aircraft used by the U.S. military forces were referred to by their manufacturers' designations.
For Army and Air Force aircraft designated after 1919, see List of military aircraft of the United States. For U.S. Navy and Marine Corps aircraft post 1922, see List of military aircraft of the United States (naval).Military aviation
Military aviation is the use of military aircraft and other flying machines for the purposes of conducting or enabling aerial warfare, including national airlift (air cargo) capacity to provide logistical supply to forces stationed in a theater or along a front. Airpower includes the national means of conducting such warfare, including the intersection of transport and war craft. Military aircraft include bombers, fighters, transports, trainer aircraft, and reconnaissance aircraft.Roundel
A roundel is a circular disc used as a symbol. The term is used in heraldry, but also commonly used to refer to a type of national insignia used on military aircraft, generally circular in shape and usually comprising concentric rings of different colours. Other symbols also often use round shapes.United Kingdom military aircraft serial numbers
United Kingdom military aircraft serial numbers are aircraft registration numbers used to identify individual military aircraft in the United Kingdom (UK). All UK military aircraft are allocated and display a unique registration number. A unified registration number system, maintained initially by the Air Ministry (AM), and its successor the Ministry of Defence (MoD), is used for aircraft operated by the Royal Air Force (RAF), Fleet Air Arm (FAA), and Army Air Corps (AAC). Military aircraft operated by government agencies and civilian contractors (for example QinetiQ) are also assigned registration numbers from this system.
When the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was formed in 1912, its aircraft were identified by a letter/number system related to the manufacturer. The prefix 'A' was allocated to balloons of No.1 Company, Air Battalion, Royal Engineers, the prefix 'B' to aeroplanes of No.2 Company, and the prefix 'F' to aeroplanes of the Central Flying School. The Naval Wing used the prefix 'H' for seaplanes ('Hydroaeroplanes' as they were then known), 'M' for monoplanes, and 'T' for aeroplanes with engines mounted in tractor configuration. Before the end of the first year, a unified aircraft registration number system was introduced for both Army and Naval aircraft.
The registration numbers are allocated at the time the contract for supply is placed with the aircraft manufacturer or supplier.
In an RAF or FAA pilot's personal service log book, the registration number of any aircraft flown, along with any other particulars, such as aircraft type, flight duration, purpose of flight, etc., is entered by the pilot after every flight, thus giving a complete record of the pilot's flying activities and which individual aircraft have been flown.United States military aircraft designation systems
The United States Military Aircraft Designation System was first designed in 1919 when the US Army's Aeronautical Division became the United States Army Air Service. Before this aircraft were put into service under their manufacturers' designations.
Modern military aircraft types and roles