The US Air Force is considered to be the world's first aerial power. Let's take a look at 39 distinct kinds of US military aircraft that are on duty.
A-10 Thunderbolt II
Mission: The A-10 is specifically designed to carry out close-air support at low altitude and low speed. The A-10 is built to be highly survivable and can takeoff and land in locations near to the front lines.
Variants: AC-130U "Spooky" and AC-130W Stinger II
Mission: Both AC-130 variants are highly modified versions of the original C-130 airframe. The variants are both tasked with close-air-support missions, convoy escort, and point air defense.
Mission: The B-1B Lancer is the Air Force's bomber backbone. It has the largest payload capacity of any aircraft in the fleet, is multi-mission capable, and can carry and deliver huge quantities of both precision and nonprecision weaponry.
Mission: The B-2 Spirit is a stealth bomber capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear munitions.
Mission: The B-52 is a long-range heavy bomber that is able to participate in and complete a wide range of mission sets. During conflicts, the B-52 can provide close air support, strategic attacks, surveillance, and counter-air and maritime operations.
Mission: The C-130 Hercules is primarily used for airlift missions and transporting equipment and troops. It can land on rough dirt strips, move oversized loads, and the airframe can be modified into a range of aircraft such as the AC-130U and the WC-130 Hercules.
C-17 Globemaster III
Mission: The C-17 is the newest cargo aircraft to enter the Air Force's airlift fleet. The plane is capable of strategic delivery of cargo and people, can complete airdrop missions, and can move patients during aeromedical evacuations.
Variants: C-20B, C-20H
Mission: The C-20 is a modified Gulfstream civilian aircraft. The planes are used to transport high-ranking officials from the government and Department of Defense.
Mission: The C-21 is used to airlift cargo and passengers. It can also be used for aeromedical evacuations.
Mission: The C-32 is used to transport the vice president primarily, but also the first lady, and cabinet and Congress members. The plane is typically referred to as "Air Force Two."
Mission: The aircraft is used to transport government officials and members of the Department of Defense.
Mission: The C-40B/C is a transportation aircraft that carries combatant commanders, as well as members of the cabinet and Congress.
Variants: C-5A/B/C Galaxy, C-5M Super Galaxy
Mission: The C-5 is the largest airlifter in the US Air Force fleet. The craft can carry a combat-ready military unit anywhere in the world, as well as deliver the necessary supplies to support the unit.
Mission: A tilt-rotor aircraft, the Osprey is intended to provide infiltration and exfiltration abilities for special-operations forces, as well as conducting resupply missions.
E-3 Sentry (AWACS)
Mission: The E-3 is an airborne warning and control system (AWACS) plane. This means that the plane provides situational intelligence of an area and sends that back to the Joint Air Operations Center.
Mission: The E-4B is the National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC), which serves as a command-and-control center for the president, the secretary of defense, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff during emergencies.
E-8C Joint Stars
Mission: The E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) is a surveillance, command, management, and reconnaissance aircraft.
Mission: The E-9A provides surveillance over the Gulf of Mexico to ensure that the area is clear for the US military to conduct weapons testing in the region.
Variants: EC-130H Compass Call, EC-130J Commando Solo
Mission: Both variants of the EC-130 are heavily modified versions of the C-130 airframe. The EC-130H makes use of tactical weapon systems to disrupt enemy command, control, and communications.
The EC-130J meanwhile is used to broadcast communications including FM radio, television programming, and communication brands.
Variants: F-15 Eagle, F-15E Strike Eagle
Mission: The F-15 is a highly maneuverable fighter intended to capture air supremacy over the battlefield. The F-15E is an upgraded F-15 that is also capable of carrying out air-to-ground missions.
F-16 Fighting Falcon
Mission: The F-16 is a multi-role aircraft that can carry out both air-to-air and air-to-ground combat. It is compact and highly maneuverable.
Mission: The F-22 is the Air Force's most recently deployed new fighter aircraft. The only combat ready fifth-generation fighter, the F-22 combines stealth, maneuverability, the ability to supercruise, and advanced avionics to be able to seize aerial dominance and carry out strikes against ground targets.
Variants: HC-130J Combat King II, HC-130P/N King
Mission: The HC-130 and its variants are personnel recovery platforms. The aircraft can be used for disaster response and evacuations. The aircraft are able to land and operate in a range of airfields.
HH-60G Pave Hawk
Mission: The HH-60G is used to personnel-recovery operations from hostile territory. The helicopter is also used in search and rescue operations, disaster response, and humanitarian assistance in civil situations.
Mission: A tanker and cargo aircraft, the KC-10's primary mission is aerial refueling. It can also carry support personnel, equipment, and carry out aeromedical evacuations.
Mission: The Stratotanker provides the backbone of the US Air Force's aerial-refueling operations. It provides support to the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and allied nations. The KC-135 can also be used for aeromedical evacuations.
Mission: The MC-12W is an intelligence-collecting aircraft that is meant to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance missions.
Variants: MC-130H Combat Talon II, MC-130J Commando II
Mission: The MC-130 aircraft is intended to provide support, resupply, refueling, infiltration, and exfiltration for special-operations forces. The aircraft also carry out secondary psychological operations, such as dropping leaflets over enemy territory.
OC-135B Open Skies
Mission: The OC-135B is the US's contribution to the Open Skies Treaty. The plane flies unarmed flights over nations that have signed to the treaty to ensure that signatories are honoring their pledges.
Variants: RC-135S Cobra Ball, RC-135U Combat Sent, RC-135V/W Rivet Joint
Missions: The RC-135 aircraft variants are all intelligence-collecting aircraft. The Cobra Ball collects information on ballistic targets, which it reports to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Rivet Joint provides real-time on-scene intelligence collection, and the Combat Sent relays electronic-reconnaissance information to the president, secretary of defense, and Department of Defense leaders.
Mission: The T-1A Jayhawk is used to provide specialized training to future airlift or tanker aircraft pilots.
Variants: T-38A/C, AT-38B
Mission: The T-38 is an aircraft used for high-altitude supersonic training. It is used to train pilots for aircraft such as the F-15E, B-1B, the F-22, and the A-10.
T-6A Texan II
Mission: The T-6A Texan II is a primary trainer aircraft intended to teach US Air Force and Navy pilots the common basic flying skills they will need.
Mission: The U-28A is used to provide on-call airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance for special-operations forces.
Mission: The U-2 is a high-altitude surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft that can operate in all conditions. The plane can capture both signals intelligence and can take high detailed photographic imagery.
Mission: A light-lift utility helicopter, the Huey is used in a variety of support missions. The helicopter's functions include emergency security airlift, surveillance of off-base nuclear weapons, disaster response, search and rescue missions, and visitor airlift.
VC-25 - Air Force One
Mission: Air Force One's only mission is to provide air transport for the president.
Mission: The WC-130 Hercules is a weather-reconnaissance aircraft. It is flown through storms, hurricanes, and winter storms to collect and measure information about the weather pattern.
WC-135 Constant Phoenix
Mission: The Constant Phoenix is used to collect and measure atmospheric data in order to support the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963.