This Is Why The A-10 Thunderbolt Is So Special

Known as “the Warthog,” the A-10 Thunderbolt is a twin-engine jet aircraft that never fails to amaze those interested in military innovations. Continue reading to learn some amazing facts about the A-10 Thunderbolt II.

Offers Extra Protection For Pilots

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Usaf/Getty Images
Usaf/Getty Images

Something that should give pilots an extra sense of security while flying this beautiful aircraft is the extra protection surrounding the cockpit. Developers added an extremely high level of security.

Surrounding the control system is 1,200 pounds of armor that they call the “bathtub.” It has the power to withstand 50-cal bullets or even 23 mm armor-piercing rounds. That means it takes a ton to penetrate into where the pilot sits.

The Heaviest Automatic Cannon

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Usaf/Getty Images
Usaf/Getty Images

Knowing that you not only have superior protection while piloting, as well as a record-breaking weapon, should make you even more fearless while flying. The Thunderbolt has a 30 mm GAU-8/A Avenger in the front.

The barrel points out from the nose, and it is something special. It’s the most massive automatic cannon ever to be installed on an aircraft. Opposing jets and planes that have to face off with the A-10 need to have a strategy before approaching.

Maintenance Requires Special Techniques

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Usaf/Getty Images
Usaf/Getty Images

While the Gatling gun is the heaviest ever mounted on an aircraft, it surprisingly only takes up a small percentage of the entire weight of the Thunderbolt. The cannon makes up 16 percent of the overall weight.

When techs have to perform maintenance on it and remove that heavy thing, special steps come into play. A support wedge goes under the tail so that the nose won’t tip over. Tipping might cause irreparable damages.

Fooling Enemies

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Rose Reynolds/USAF
Rose Reynolds/USAF

Participating in a war or battle involves a certain amount of trickery. The Thunderbolt has a nice trick up its sleeve to help make potential enemies think twice about attacking.

Some of the A-10s have a “false canopy” painted underneath them. The paint supposedly confuses the opposition into thinking there’s a shadow cast by a real canopy. The result is that the enemy thinks the aircraft isn’t going in the direction they believe and that it’s at a different altitude.

Help For Ground Fire

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In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images
In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images

Engineers have unique ways of ensuring the utmost protection. Engine placement matters a great deal for the A-10. The General Electric TF-34-GE-100 engines sit high, above and behind the wings.

Why are they that way? Well, placing them there helps protect against ground fire. You wouldn’t want the engines to be compromised before the craft even gets the chance to soar the skies, or for them to be blasted from someone shooting from below the carrier.

3,900 Rounds Per Minute!

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Usaf/Getty Images
Usaf/Getty Images

Getting hit by a regular bullet from a pistol is already devastating. Then, you take it up a step to an automatic gun, and things get even more deadly.

With the A-10, the Gatling gun fires out high explosive incendiary and armor-piercing depleted uranium rounds. They fire at a rate of 3,900 rounds per minute and are also incredibly accurate.

Where Did The Name Come From?

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Alain Nogues/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images
Alain Nogues/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images

Where did the name Thunderbolt II originate? Since things don’t start as the “second,” it’s safe to say the military got the name from another version.

Well, the Thunderbolt II gets that name from the P47 Thunderbolt. Military forces used the P47 during WWII. Both of them are/were ground support aircraft. Overall, they made some pretty significant upgrades to the A-10 that have helped a lot.

Flying Through Storms

flying through the air
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

We’ve already touched on how powerfully reinforced the armor is on these planes, but let’s dive in a little deeper now. Can you imagine your car getting struck by lightning? It wouldn’t be a pretty sight.

Well, the heavy protection on the Thunderbolt II allows it to fly through super-cell thunderstorms! That’s an incredible thing that it can do, and the Air Force doesn’t take it for granted. They use the aircraft to monitor the weather systems.

Special Requirements For Loading The Ammo

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Usaf/Getty Images
Usaf/Getty Images

By now you know that the Thunderbolt II isn’t your average aircraft. Its unique qualities make it an incredibly valuable asset for the American military.

One of the unique requirements it has is how you need to load the ammunition on it. They created a particular vehicle to get the ammo into the aircraft. They call it “The Dragon.” We couldn’t think of a more fitting name for this beast.

Careful Not To Overheat

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Mirrorpix/Getty Images
Mirrorpix/Getty Images

As we’ve mentioned earlier, the cannon on the Thunderbolt II can shoot 3,900 rounds per minute! That’s a lot of ammo coming out, but there is a limit to how much it can fire.

The Gatling gun heats up pretty quickly, so they can only use it in short bursts. Anything more than that and the barrel will overheat, rendering it ineffective. With great power comes great responsibility, so pilots need to keep that in mind.

Don’t Call It Ambidextrous

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Usaf/Getty Images
Usaf/Getty Images

Someone who is ambidextrous can use both their right and left hands with equal capabilities. The Thunderbolt II has a similar feature. The engines, landing gear, and vertical stabilizers are left and right interchangeable.

All that means is that those things, as well as a few others, can operate on both sides. Being able to do that allows it to get serviced at a forward location, meaning it can get back into battle sooner.

Large Wings And Wide Wheelbase

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CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

If you’ve paid attention to detail, then you’ve noticed that the Thunderbolt II has very large wings and a wide wheelbase. What is the purpose of these features, and what benefits do they bring?

These things didn’t get added for no reason. The wide wheelbase and gigantic wings let the A-10 land and take off from a short runway. That means it has the power to get extremely close to the front line of battle.

Weight Distribution

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Stan Parker/USAF
Stan Parker/USAF

Remember earlier when we told you that the cannon makes up 16 percent of the overall weight? Well, that’s when it’s without any ammunition. Surprisingly enough, the Thunderbolt II carries more weight in weapons than the aircraft weighs itself.

That’s almost insane when you think about it. Alone, the A-10 weighs 12 tons! the GAU-8 holds a maximum of 13 tons of armament. That’s one-ton more than the beast of an aircraft, which we can’t believe.

Can Operate At Low Altitudes

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Ghosttanker/Pinterest
Ghosttanker/Pinterest

One of the main assets of the A-10 is how it can go about its business at very low altitudes. The Thunderbolt can operate under 1,000-foot ceilings while maintaining 1.5-mile visibility.

Being able to do that, combined with its long loiter time, are two of the reasons why the A-10 receives so much praise. The ground support capability gives military officials a more peaceful rest when they sleep at night.

The Thunderbolt Monster Truck

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Reed T/Pinterest
Reed T/Pinterest

As cool as the aerial version of the A-10, there might be an even better version of it. Monster trucks are always fun to watch as they crush anything remotely smaller than them.

The Thunderbolt has a monster truck version that the Air Force uses for marketing. These days, you have to get creative to have a successful marketing campaign, and this is a pretty great idea. It travels around America, and the fans love it.

Built To Last

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Usaf/Getty Images
Usaf/Getty Images

When they created the A-10, they wanted to make sure it could survive a plethora of events. The extra protection for the cockpit is only the tip of the iceberg.

A hydraulic system is used “to move and actuate landing gear, flaps, and brakes,” per Experimental Aircraft. The A-10’s hydraulics system is double-redundant. Furthermore, there’s a mechanical backup system that controls the plane if the hydraulics get lost.

The First Battle

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USAF
USAF

When was the first time the A-10 saw battle? The first time the Thunderbolt II went into action was in 1991 to fight during the Persian Gulf War. What a time for it to show its worth!

The statistics it put up were great! The Thunderbolt II ended up destroying 900 tanks, 1,200 artillery pieces, 2,000 other military vehicles, and had two air-to-air victories. That’s quite the showing for the first time going into war!

Helping With A Rescue

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Independent News and Media/Getty Images
Independent News and Media/Getty Images

Eight years after entering its first battle, the A-10 provided some critical help to someone in need. In 1999, the Thunderbolt II helped rescue a downed F-117 pilot in Kosovo. How exactly did it do this?

Well, the aircraft provided its superior ground support as three helicopters performed the rescue mission. It was a total team effort, but with the assist on the ground level, the results might have turned out differently. That pilot has four aircraft to thank.

Fighting To Keep It Alive

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Usaf/Getty Images
Usaf/Getty Images

There was a time when the A-10 almost ceased to exist. The government and the Air Force had to strike a deal to keep this aircraft alive, but what were the agreements?

In 1973, Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger thought of a nice compromise. He said he would get rid of the cap on the number of wings (not wings on a plane, think hangar) that Air Force fighters could have, but only if Air Force General George Brown would keep the Thunderbolt around.

Long And Wide

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Usaf/Getty Images
Usaf/Getty Images

Every plane or jet has a different length and width. Not all are the same, and we can learn that from the A-10, which has an interesting feature about it.

The Thunderbolt II has a wingspan of 57 feet and six inches. Its length comes in at 53 feet and four inches. That means that it’s almost as wide as it is long. That’s not something you see every day in planes, but the Thunderbolt II is one exception.

A Special Piece Of Armament

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USAF
USAF

We’ve touched on numerous pieces of equipment that the Thunderbolt II. One that hasn’t been mentioned is the AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missile. That sounds as intense as the heavy cannon it has!

Well, that’s because it is. Each of the missiles weigh 670 pounds and can obliterate a tank with only one shot. You’ve got to feel a bit sorry for tanks that get in the way of this thing.

So Many Features!

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Stan Parker/USAF
Stan Parker/USAF

As you know from earlier, the A-10 can survive thunderstorms, so they use it to check the weather in severe conditions. Not only is it an all-weather aircraft, but it can do more too.

It’s also what you call an all-day aircraft. They have Night Vision Imaging Systems installed. There is also a goggle-compatible seat for pilots found in the cockpit. The Thunderbolt II can do so many things, its no wonder Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger wanted it to stay around.

Where Was The First Production Set?

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USAF
USAF

They didn’t just start making this aircraft in the middle of nowhere, it had be constructed somewhere safe. Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona saw the first-ever production of the Thunderbolt II.

The year was 1975, so it would be 15 years before they used it in battle. Knowing that the military had something like this waiting in the trenches, everyone was probably quite relieved when it had finally been produced.

Fighting Every Battle

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USAF
USAF

When you have something as impactful as the A-10, then what you’re about to read next shouldn’t come as a surprise. Ever since it finished production and was ready for battle, it didn’t miss one.

Starting in 1991 after the Thunderbolt II took part in the Persian Gulf War, it never missed a major conflict for the United States. The question we ask is why not? The A-10 can do so much that America needs it.

A Defining Trait

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Usaf/Getty Images
Usaf/Getty Images

Once again, we’re going to blow your mind. The A-10 can survive so many things because that’s how America engineered it. For example, it has a honeycomb panel design, but do you know what that does?

The honeycomb panel helps to make the whole aircraft capable of taking even more damage in battle. America didn’t want to take any chances when they put the Thunderbolt II into production and started using it in battles.

Special Landing Tricks

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Jeffrey Markowitz/Sygma via Getty Images
Jeffrey Markowitz/Sygma via Getty Images

Here’s another trick the A-10 has that you can enjoy. The front landing gear comes out from under the wings in opposing positions. The back wheels are also in line with the fuselage.

What does this all mean to the casual person? Well, that set up lets them have room for the huge machine gun that sits in the nose. They had to figure out some way to make that happen and this was the best plan of action.

Take A Closer Look At The Wheels

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Jeffrey Markowitz/Sygma via Getty Images
Jeffrey Markowitz/Sygma via Getty Images

Okay, now we ask that you take a closer look at the wheels. Is there something out of the ordinary that catches your eye? If you can’t guess, it’s that the wheels stick out a tiny bit.

Even when retracted, the wheels protrude a certain amount. They do that just in case the aircraft has to land with its gear up. If that happens, then it helps prevent some of the damage the Thunderbolt would receive.

Larger Than Most

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Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images
Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images

Another incredible fact about the A-10 is that the right and left ailerons ( defined as: “hinged surface[s] in the trailing edge of an airplane wing, used to control lateral balance”) are larger than most others.

Given that they’re bigger than most, it helps the Thunderbolt II move around better. This feature gives it greater maneuverability than its air-to-ground assault counterparts. This aircraft continues to impress us with all that it can do!

NFL Player Takes Flight

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Contributor/Getty Images
Contributor/Getty Images

Did you think military officials are the only ones who can take flight in the Thunderbolt II? Nope, they aren’t and we’re going to tell you which outsider got to pilot one of these sensational planes.

Chad Hennings, a former defensive lineman for the Dallas Cowboys, once piloted the A-10. He did so during the Persian Gulf War, but he also spent some time in the Air Force. He didn’t go into the NFL until after he finished serving America.

Massive Ammunition

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Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

If you had to guess how large the bullets were for the A-10, what would you say? If you guessed the size of beer bottles, then you’re correct! No wonder those things are armor-piercing.

Remember, they have to use a special vehicle called “The Dragon” to load those bullets, but what is the size of the gun that fires them? Well, the gun is larger than a Volkswagen Bug, in case you wanted a more precise visual.

Lockheed C-5 Galaxy

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Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The C-5 Galaxy is an absolutely incredible plane that provides the U.S. Air Force with a heavy intercontinental airlift capable of carrying oversized loads with ease.

It’s one of the largest military aircraft in the world and is extremely expensive to build. The cheapest model of the C-5 goes for around $100.37 million and can range up to about $224.29 million. It still remains active today but was originally introduced in 1970.

Antonov An-124

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Wikimedia / Bushman787
Wikimedia / Bushman787

The 226-foot aircraft was built by the Antonov Design Bureau in the 1980s and has since become synonymous in both military and commercial aviation. There was more than 50 of them produced and used around the world.

It was a strategic airlift quad-jet that was the heaviest cargo airplane for thirty years and the second-heaviest cargo aircraft in the world. It was surpassed by the Antonov AN-225 which you’ll be able to read about very shortly.

HK-1

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Frederic Lewis/Getty Images
Frederic Lewis/Getty Images

The HK 1, or the “Spruce Goose” as it was more widely known because it was made almost entirely out of birch, was originally meant to be a transatlantic transport aircraft during the Second World War. The only problem was that it wasn’t finished in time to actually be put into service.

The U.S. military ended up only flying it once in 1947 and only one prototype was ever built. It’s now on display at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum.

Blohm & Voss BV 238

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Twitter / @lasungundaguerra
Twitter / @lasungundaguerra

The Blohm and Voss BV 238 was a German flying boat built during World War II. At the time, it was the heaviest aircraft ever when it first flew in 1944. The BV 238 had an empty weight of 120,769 pounds, but only one was ever built because of the resources it took to put it together.

It holds the title of being the largest aircraft produced by any of the Axis powers during the war as well.

Antonov AN-225 Mriya

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Paul Kane/Getty Images
Paul Kane/Getty Images

This strategic airlift cargo aircraft is powered by six turbofan engines and is the longest and heaviest plane ever built.

It was originally developed to transport the Buran spaceplane for the USSR in the 80s. It can take off with a maximum weight of 640 tons and has the longest wingspan of any aircraft at the time it was built, and out of any current operational aircraft in the world.

Ilyushin Il-76

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Marina LystsevaTASS via Getty Images
Marina LystsevaTASS via Getty Images

This aircraft was built during the tensest moments of the Cold War and still remains active to this day. In fact, there are 1,000 of them in operation around the world.

Originally developed for the USSR, the Ilyushin II-76 was a multi-purpose, four-engine turbofan airlifter that was supposed to be a commercial freighter but ended up being adopted by the Russian military. It’s capable of delivering some of the heaviest machinery and military vehicles in the world.

Convair B-36 Peacemaker

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Universal History Archive/ UIG via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/ UIG via Getty Images

The Convair B-36 Peacemaker was operated by the United States Air Force from 1949 until 1959. It had a fairly short lifespan, but still remains the largest mass-produced piston-engined aircraft ever built.

It had the longest wingspan of any combat aircraft ever built at 230 ft. The B-36 was special in that it was capable of delivering any nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenals at the time without any modifications. It ended up being replaced by the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress near the end of the 50s.

Boeing C-17 Globemaster III

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Marina LystsevaTASS via Getty Images
Marina LystsevaTASS via Getty Images

The C-17 Globemaster III is one of the biggest military planes to hit the skies. The Globemaster III was first delivered in 1991 and was produced up until 2015 before it was discontinued. The per-unit cost was about $218 million and was created by McDonnell Douglas.

It was used for strategic and tactical airlift missions that would often include airdrops of heavy machinery or people and immediate medical evacuations. This thing is an absolute beast.

Zeppelin-Staaken R.VI

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Twitter / @plaenut27
Twitter / @plaenut27

Let’s throw it back to World War I with the Zeppelin-Staaken R.VI which was one of the biggest wooden planes produced during the early 1900s. It was a four-engined strategic bomber that was built in Germany and had one of the earliest closed-cockpit in any military aircraft.

Only six of the 18 ended up even surviving the war as four were shot down, six others were destroyed in crashes and two others had technical difficulties.

Kawanishi H8K

japanese-boat-25472
Twitter / @ron_eisele
Twitter / @ron_eisele

The Kawanishi H8K was an Imperial Japanese Navy flying boat used primarily for maritime patrol duties. It was an aircraft that was built for long flights over long ranges and it was usually flying solo without any backup over the ocean.

The Americans nicknamed the H8K “Emily” during the war. If you anyone said “Emily” over the radio it was always in reference to this patrolling plane. It wasn’t fully functional until the end of World War II as it didn’t see combat until 1942.

Convair XC-99

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Twitter / @historylvrsclub
Twitter / @historylvrsclub

It’s interesting to note that one of the biggest planes in the world is also one of the oldest. The Convair XC-99 had a design capacity of 100,000 lbs for 400 fully equipped soldiers on its double cargo decks. The XC-99 first took flight all the way back in 1947 and was retired in 1957.

The U.S. Air Force used it as a heavy cargo plane and it was the biggest piston-engined, land-based transport plane ever constructed.

Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules

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RAVEENDRAN/AFP/Getty Images
RAVEENDRAN/AFP/Getty Images

Any aircraft that has the word “Hercules” in the title, nevermind “Super Hercules,” is going to be a force to be reckoned with. The C-130J first took flight in 1996 for the U.S. Air Force and has since been delivered to 15 other nations who have placed orders.

It’s a four-engine turboprop transport plane that has been in continuous production longer than any other military aircraft in history. While this exact model is roughly two decades old, the Hercules family has been around for nearly six.

Martin JRM Mars

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Education Images/UIG via Getty Images
Education Images/UIG via Getty Images

The Martin JRM Mars is a four-engine seaplane that was popularized during World War II. It was the largest seaplane that was used by the Americans and other Allied forces during the War.

There were only seven of them built despite how impressive and effective they were. Four of the remaining flying boats transitioned into civilian use after the war was over. They turned into firefighting water bombers which made them even more useful. Those models have since been retired.

Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker

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aviation-images.com/UIG via Getty Images
aviation-images.com/UIG via Getty Images

There’s no easy way to refuel strategic bombers, but that’s exactly what the KC-135 Stratotanker’s task is. It was used a lot during the Vietnam War for the Americans and would become a huge strategic benefit in Operation Desert Storm.

It’s interesting to note that the KC-135 and the Boeing 707 were both developed from the same aircraft (the Boeing 367-80). The 136 ft aircraft became revolutionary in that it was the United States Air Force’s first ever jet-powered refueling tanker.

Caspian Sea Monster

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Twitter / @strangecraft
Twitter / @strangecraft

The Caspian Sea Monster was developed by the Soviet Union in the 1960s and was continuously tested until 1980 when it was damaged in a testing accident. At the time, it was the largest and heaviest aircraft in the world for about 20 years.

During the Cold War, the U.S. had many missions that had the sole purpose of figuring out what the Sea Monster was capable of doing. It was nearly undetectable to many radar systems as it would consistently fly below the minimum altitude of detection. Despite being an aircraft, it was assigned to the Soviet Navy and operated by the Soviet Air Force.

Xian H-6 Bomber

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Marina LystsevaTASS via Getty Images
Marina LystsevaTASS via Getty Images

The H-6 Bomber was first delivered to the Chinese military in 1958 and has enjoyed quite an impressive and successful career. While the Chinese didn’t end up getting too much use out of it, the Iraqi and Egyptian Air Forces certainly did. In fact, the Iraqi Air Force retired the plane in 1991, while the Egyptian Air Force would retire the plane in 2000.

It’s a variation of the Tupolev Tu-16 twin-engine bomber that was originally built for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force.

Boeing E-3 Sentry

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Pinterest
Pinterest

The Boeing E-3 Sentry is an American airborne early warning and control aircraft. It’s used by the U.S. Air Force to provide all-weather surveillance, command, control, communications and constant updates.

The E-3 is distinguished by distinctive rotating radar domes above the fuselage. There was 68 of these built before they stopped production in 1992. The radars used pulse-Doppler technology which played a crucial role in directing coalition aircraft against the enemy in Operation Desert Storm.

NASA Super Guppy

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Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images
Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images

This was the very first aircraft to be made by Aero Spacelines. The plane was designed for cargo, which should be pretty obvious just by having a quick glance. It was the successor to the Pregnant Guppy, and all Super Guppys currently remain in service.

There have been five planes built in two different variants of the Guppy aircraft which have been referred to as “Super Guppy.” It’s pretty obvious how it got its name, so we won’t even go there.

Kalinin K-7

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Reddit / riumniked
Reddit / riumniked

The Kalinin K-7 was a heavy experimental aircraft designed and tested in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. It had twin booms and large underwing pods housing fixed landing gear and machine gun turrets.

There was originally supposed to be a passenger version as well with seats arranged inside the wings. It first flew in 1933 and by the seventh flight, it crashed due to structural failure later that year. The accident ended up killing 14 people aboard and one on the ground.

Junkers JU-390

junkersJU-77341
Twitter / @classicwarbirds
Twitter / @classicwarbirds

The Junkers JU 390 holds a unique place in the heavy military aircraft category. The German-built plane only flew for two years during World War II (1943-1945) for the Luftwaffe. It had six engines which made the design pretty iconic and was the reason this aircraft has a unique place in military history.

The JU-390 was meant to serve as a heavy transport aircraft, a long-range bomber and a patrol plane for the Germans. It was revolutionary for the time.