The 16 fastest combat planes in the US Air Force

These impressive, fast and incredibly expensive planes are currently protecting America's freedom.

Fox Van Allen
Fox Van Allen is a Los Angeles-based writer for CBS Interactive covering technology, tech lifestyle and gaming topics for GameSpot, CNET, ZDNet and TechRepublic. He has previously worked as a news and feature writer for a number of other sites, including Techlicious, Tecca, WoW Insider (Joystiq) and Blizzard Watch. In his spare time, Fox is an amateur skydiver, retro gaming and arcade enthusiast, 8-bit pixel artist, podcaster and Twitch live streamer.
Fox Van Allen
1 of 28 Danny Myers, U.S. Air Force photo

These are the fastest planes in the USAF

With more than 300,000 active service personnel, more than 5,000 planes currently in service, and a budget of $161 billion, the US Air Force is the largest military force of its kind in the world.

And it's one of the most impressive too -- the USAF has planes capable of flying at speeds of 1,875 miles per hour. Which is the fastest? Take a look through this gallery and find out for yourself.

2 of 28 Staff Sgt. Craig Seals/USAF

F-15E Strike Eagle

This is it: The absolute fastest plane in the US Air Force fleet.

First taking flight in 1986, the F-15E Strike Eagle is a dual-role fighter designed for air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. Piloted by a crew of two, the planes have racked up an impressive streak of more than 100 aerial combat victories without a single air-to-air loss.

Wingspan: 39 feet, 3 inches
Length: 63 feet, 1 inches
Speed: 1,875 mph
Cost: $31.1 million (fiscal 1998 dollars)

3 of 28 Staff Sgt Aaron Allmon

Lighting up the skies of Afghanistan

The F-15E's advanced targeting system can track enemies from as far away as 10 miles. This tracking data is then transferred to the plane's smart bombs and homing missiles.

In this photo, an F-15E Strike Eagle launches heat decoys during a mission over Afghanistan in 2008.

4 of 28 TSgt Keith Brown

F-15A Eagle

The F-15A Eagle is an all-weather, multirole tactical fighter capable of speeds greater than Mach 2.5. It is, arguably, the most successful air superiority fighter plane ever built.

Wingspan: 42 feet, 9 inches
Length: 63 feet, 9 inches
Speed: 1,650 mph
Cost: $29.9 million (fiscal 1998 dollars)

5 of 28 US Department of Defense

This is one blazing-fast plane

The Eagle performs superbly in both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. During operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, F-15 fighters accounted for 36 of the 39 air-to-air victories by the USAF.

6 of 28 USAF

QF-4E Phantom

The QF-4E Phantom remote-controlled target drone, built from older F-4 Phantom II planes, has a very special role in the US fleet: It's used as a decoy and as target practice for US air-to-air missiles, radars and surface-to-air missiles.

The plane will be in service through mid-2017, when it will be replaced by the QF-16 target drone.

Wingspan: 39 feet, 3 inches
Length: 63 feet, 1 inches
Speed: 1,600 mph
Cost: $2.6 million (aerial conversion)

7 of 28 Tech. Sgt. Charles Larkin Sr./USAF

F-22A Raptor

The twin-engine F-22 Raptor is designed, the USAF says, "to project air dominance, rapidly and at great distances." It's designed to provide first-kill opportunities, meaning the plane can "shoot and kill air-to-air threats before being detected."

Wingspan: 44 feet, 6 inches
Length: 61 feet, 1 inches
Speed: 1,500 mph
Cost: $143 million

8 of 28 David Bedard

A single-seat supersonic powerhouse

The single-seat F-22A Raptor is armed with a M61A2 20-millimeter cannon (480 rounds) and two AIM-9 heat-seeking air-to-air missiles. Its internal main weapons bay can hold six AIM-120 radar-guided air-to-air missiles, or two AIM-120s along with two 1,000-pound GBU-32 smart bombs.

9 of 28 Staff Sgt. Christopher Boitz/USAF

F-16 Fighting Falcon

Think of the F-16 Fighting Falcon as a more cost-effective version of its cousin, the F-15 Strike Eagle. The single-engine plane, made by General Dynamics, has an internal M61 Vulcan cannon and can carry 11 missiles.

Wingspan: 32 feet, 8 inches
Length: 49 feet, 5 inches
Speed: 1,500 mph
Cost: $18.8 million (fiscal 1998 dollars)

10 of 28 Staff Sgt. Siuta B. Ika/USAF

Wearing a G-suit is required

The F-16 Fighting Falcon is the first U.S. Air Force plane designed to make 9-g maneuvers, the upper limit a pilot wearing a g-suit can withstand while still maintaining consciousness.

11 of 28 Darin Russell/USAF

F-35 Lightning II

The F-35 Lightning II is a next-generation stealth multirole fighter jet designed for ground attacks and air defense missions. It's the first U.S. Air Force plane designed with voice recognition, allowing pilots to keep their focus on the battle, rather than on an instrument panel.

Here, an F-35 Lightning II is flanked over California with a pair of F-16 Fighting Falcons.

Wingspan: 35 feet
Length: 50 feet, 6 inches
Speed: 1,200 mph
Cost: $85 million (2018 estimate)

12 of 28 MCC Eric A. Clement, U.S. Navy

This is one expensive plane

The F-35 Lightning program has drawn much criticism. It is well over budget, years behind schedule, with significant technical issues that have yet to be solved.

When all is said and done, the United States is expected to spend over $1 trillion on its "horribly broken" F-35 program. (Yes, trillion.)

13 of 28 Master Sgt. Lance Cheung/USAF

B-1B Lancer

Originally envisioned in the 1960s as a supersonic bomber with long range and the ability to deliver massive payloads (75,000 pounds), the Air Force calls the B1-B Lancer "the backbone of America's long-range bomber force."

Wingspan: 137 feet
Length: 146 feet
Speed: 900-plus mph
Cost: $317 million

14 of 28 U.S. Air Force

Here come the smart bombs

The B1-B bomber flew in fewer than 1 percent of all combat missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom while dropping 40 percent of all "smart bomb" joint direct attack munitions (JDAM).

15 of 28 TSgt Robert Horstman/USAF

B-52 Stratofortress

The B-52 Stratofortress long-range strategic bomber has been a mainstay of the US Air Force since 1952. The massive planes have undergone numerous upgrades since; some B-52s can launch smart weapons such as Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles.

Wingspan: 185 feet
Length: 159 feet, 4 inches
Speed: 650 mph
Cost: $84 million (fiscal 2012 dollars)

16 of 28 Tech Sgt. Corey Clements

This bomber is coming for you, ISIS.

Despite their age, upgraded B-52 bombers have recently been deployed to the Middle East to fight against ISIS. You can learn more about this legendary aircraft here.

17 of 28 Sgt Bennie J. Davis III/USAF

B-2 Spirit

The Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit, colloquially known as the Stealth Bomber, was built with a specially designed airframe that absorbs and deflects radar signals. This allows it to fly through the skies virtually undetected.

Wingspan: 172 feet
Length: 69 feet
Speed: 650 mph
Cost: $1.157 billion (fiscal 1998 dollars)

18 of 28 TSgt Justin D. Pyle

The B-2 flies over St. Louis

Back in the Carter and Reagan eras, it was thought the B-2 would be used to deliver nuclear payloads. Instead, the bomber was used to deliver conventional payloads as the lead of the "shock and awe" bombing campaign against Baghdad during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.

19 of 28 Staff Sgt. Jamal D. Sutter

A-10C Thunderbolt II

Commonly known as the "warthog" and easily distinguished by its nose art, the A-10C Thunderbolt II is a single-seater jet designed for close air support, forward air control and combat search and rescue.

Wingspan: 57 feet, 6 inches
Length: 53 feet, 4 inches
Speed: 518 mph
Cost: $18.8 million

20 of 28 MSgt Robert Wieland

Dropping the bomb on America's enemies

The A-10C Thunderbolt II's primary 30mm cannon fires 3,900 rounds per minute. It is also armed with air-to-surface and air-to-air missiles, cluster bombs (such as the MK-82 bombs being dropped here), laser-guided bombs and other weaponry.

The A-10C Thunderbolt II is currently in active service against Islamic State forces in the Middle East.

21 of 28 Staff Sgt. Samuel King Jr./USAF

AC-130J Ghost Rider

The new AC-130J Ghost Rider won't enter service until 2017. But when these next-generation, ground-attack gunships do take flight, they will be armed with a 105-millimeter cannon, along with a payload of smartbombs. The planes will also have directed energy weapons (lasers) installed by 2020 to defeat incoming missiles and disrupt enemy communications systems.

Wingspan: 132 feet, 7 inches
Length: 97 feet, 9 inches
Speed: 416 mph
Cost: $109 million

22 of 28 Staff Sgt. Tia Schroeder/USAF

EC-130 Commando Solo III

Called a "weapon of mass persuasion" by the Los Angeles Times, the Commando Solo is the United States' key Psychological Operations communication ship. It is equipped to broadcast messages to the enemy over FM radio, analog color TV and military communication bands.

During Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1990-91, the Commando Solo broadcast the "Voice of the Gulf" radio network, encouraging the peaceful surrender of Iraqi combatants.

Wingspan: 133 feet
Length: 98 feet
Speed: 335 mph
Cost: $110 million

23 of 28 Airman 1st Class Cheyenne Morigeau/USAF

EC-130H Compass Call

Rather than drop conventional bombs, the massive EC-130H Compass Call instead engages in electronic warfare. Its crew of 13 works to disrupt enemy communications, limiting their ability to launch coordinated attacks against our troops.

The Compass Call is currently deployed in Afghanistan and in the fight against ISIS.

Wingspan: 132 feet, 7 inches
Length: 97 feet, 9 inches
Speed: 300 mph
Cost: $165 million

24 of 28 Airman 1st Class Jeff Parkinson/USAF

AC-130U Spooky

The AC-130U Spooky gunship was first deployed in 1995 to provide close air support, air interdiction and force protection.

Wingspan: 132 feet, 7 inches
Length: 97 feet, 9 inches
Speed: 300 mph
Cost: $210 million

25 of 28 Senior Airman Julianne Showalter/USAF

This is one heavily-armed warship

Most recently, this massive plane supported Operation Iraqi Freedom/New Dawn with its side-firing weapons integrated with complex sensor, navigation and fire-control systems.

Because of this technology, the Spooky can identify ground targets and friendly forces in virtually all situations.

26 of 28 Senior Airman Eboni Reece/USAF

AC-130W Stinger II

An upgraded version of the older C-130H plane, the massive AC-130W Stinger II features improved navigation, threat detection, countermeasures and communications suites.

Wingspan: 44 feet, 6 inches
Length: 61 feet, 1 inches
Speed: 300 mph
Cost: $122 million (fiscal 2010 dollars)

27 of 28 Airman 1st Class Ericka Engblom

Taking flight with a smart bomb upgrade

The key feature of the massive AC-130W Stinger II gunship is its Precision Strike Package. It can unleash a suite of AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and GBU-39 small-diameter smart bombs. The Stinger II is meant for close air support and air interdiction (preventative attacks).

AC-130W planes recently saw action in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Inherent Resolve.

28 of 28 Senior Master Sgt. Rose Reynolds/USAF

MC-130H Combat Talon II

The MC-130H is a special mission aircraft that provides infiltration, exfiltration and resupply of special operations forces in hostile territory. It can also perform psychological operations and air refueling missions.

In this photo, the Combat Talon is deploying flares as a defense against heat-seeking (infrared) missiles.

Wingspan: 132 feet, 7 inches
Length: 97 feet, 9 inches
Speed: 300 mph
Cost: $160 million

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