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Junior Taamas
, Nigeria.
Not long after the Wright Brothers’
historic first flight in Kitty Hawk, North
Carolina, airplanes became weaponized
to achieve a vast array of objectives.
Speed, range, firepower, and agility are
just some of the contributory factors to
determine which aircraft are most
praiseworthy. But what is the greatest
warbird of all time? It’s a tough question
— like asking a sports fan to name the
best athlete who ever lived (hint: it’s Jim

So before you start firing bullet-riddled
comments, please understand this list is
merely a general consensus among
military historians, fighter jocks and
aviation experts who know a thing or two
about thrust, drag, lift, and weight —
aka the four forces of flight.
Furthermore, the entries presented are
not ranked in any specific order other
than their initial arrival in the air.

10. Albatros D.III

Legendary pilot Manfred von Richthofen
(“The Red Baron”) is probably best known
for his brightly colored, three-winged
Fokker Dr. I. However, the famous ace of
aces achieved most of his 80 kills during
WWI in an Albatros D.III . The German
plane benefitted from a lightweight
frame made of plywood, a 170 hp
Mercedes D.III inline water cooled
engine, and armed with twin 7.92 mm
LMG 08/15 machine guns.

The Berlin-based Albatros-Flugzeugwerke
first introduced the fighter in 1916. Its
acrobatic maneuverability saw the
Richthofen’s Jagdgeschwader I (“Fighter
Wing 1”) dominate the skies in what
came to be known as “The Flying Circus.”
The D.III enjoyed its greatest success in
1917 during “Bloody April” — a month
in which the Germans shot down 245
British aircraft over the skies of
northern France.

Although its agility and climb rate drew
rave reviews, one major design flaw
presented grave problems. Early variants
featured a Teves und Braun airfoil-
shaped radiator in the center of the
upper wing, which if punctured by
enemy gunfire, tended to scald the
pilot’s face. Yikes. Subsequently, the part
was modified and moved to the right of
its original placement.

9. Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5a

As attrition for the Allies continued to
mount towards the end of WWI, British
engineers worked feverishly to produce a
fighter that was both easier to fly and at
least equal to those pesky German
planes. That soon changed with the
rollout of the Royal Aircraft Factory
S.E.5a in 1917. Featuring a powerful
200-hp Hispano-Suiza (or Wolseley Viper)
water-cooled engine, the Scout
Experimental 5 provided outstanding
high-altitude performance, easier
handling than the Sopwith Camel, and
ranked as one of the swiftest flyers of
the war with a top speed of 138 mph.

Different versions of the S.E.5a,
however, were not without its share of
engine-related grief. But once the kinks
were worked out, the fighter became a
favorite of both novice pilots as well as
top aces, including Billy Bishop , Alan
Ball, James McCudden, and Edward
Along with the added boost of American
doughboys, the S.E.5a helped turn the
tide on the Western Front, equipping 21
British and two U.S. squadrons. Over
5,000 were produced at the plant in
Farnsworth, England with armament that
included a synchronized .303-inch
Vickers machine gun, a wing-mounted
Lewis gun, and four (two under each
wing) 18-kilogram Cooper bombs.

8. Spitfire

The battle-scarred Spitfire that hangs
prominently inside the Imperial War
Museum in London is a fitting tribute to
its rightful place in history. The Royal Air
Force (RAF) fighter not only helped
thwart Hitler’s plans to invade the U.K.
but served as an iconic symbol of
resistance throughout the war. Prime
Minister Winston Churchill said it best
when expressing his gratitude regarding
the Battle of Britain , “Never in the field
of human conflict was so much owed by
so many to so few.

Designed by R. J. Mitchell at Supermarine
Aviation Works, the Spitfire first took
flight in 1936 near its production facility
in Southampton, England. Mitchell, a
well-respected aeronautical engineer,
aimed to build a short-range, high-
performance bomber interceptor capable
of exploiting the powerful Rolls Royce
V-12 Merlin engine. He also managed to
create a gorgeous-looking plane,
characterized by its sleek fuselage,
elliptical wings, and long, regal nose.
Early variants of the fighter featured
eight .303 Browning guns in the wings
that were later replaced or augmented
with 20mm Hispano MkII cannons. The
Spitfire’s impressive climb rate and deft
maneuverability would become its
defining hallmark, engaging in epic duels
with its main German rival, the
Messerschmitt Bf-109. To be fair, the
RAF Hawker Hurricane inflicted 60
percent of enemy aircraft during the
Battle of Britain but also had nearly
twice the number of planes.
After the homeland threat subsided,
Spitfires also served as fighter-bombers
and carrier-based fighters, earning
similar distinction in all combat theaters.
7. A6M Zero

Japan’s founding mythology holds that its
first ruler, Emperor Jimmu , ascended to
the throne in 660 B.C. Flash forward to
1940, when special celebrations were
held to mark the 2,600th year
anniversary while at the same time,
Mitsubishi began mass production of the
Imperial Navy’s new aircraft carrier-
based fighter, A6M. The official name
was Rei-shiki kanjo sentoki or model zero
carrier-based fighter — the “zero” in this
case referred to the last digit of 2,600 —
and thus simply shortened to Zero .
Arguably the best fighter plane of WWII,
the Zero built its much-feared
dogfighting reputation based on superb
agility, speed, and range, and would later
apply the same qualities to making
outstanding cars for fighting rush hour
traffic. The lightweight aluminum frame
allowed for a top speed of 331 mph and
a range of 1930 miles. Its armament
consisted of two 7.7mm machine guns,
two 20mm cannons in its wings and
could carry two 132-pound bombs.
The Zero easily outclassed most of its
rivals in early combat operations. The
surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on
December 7,194 saw the Japanese
Imperial Navy launch 353 aircraft from
six carriers, including scores of Zeroes
that stuck a crippling blow to U.S.

Pacific Fleet.
As the war progressed, however, the
Allies built more formidable weaponry to
mitigate the Japanese advantage. The
Zeros would later be used in more
Kamikaze suicide attacks than any other
airplane. A total of nearly 11,000 Zeros
were manufactured overall, making it the
most produced Japanese fighter of the

6. P-51D Mustang

Der P-51 ist einer der Hauptgründe,
warum dieser Artikel nicht vollständig in
deutscher Sprache verfasst ist.

(Translation: the P-51 is one of the
primary reasons why this article isn’t
written entirely in German.) Although
“greatness” is often a matter of
conjecture, few will argue that the P-51D
Mustang is the fighter plane most
responsible for pushing the Allies to
victory in the ETO (European Theater of

Originally developed for the RAF by
North American Aviation (a division of
General Motors), the P-51 (P for Pursuit)
design underwent numerous
modifications before taking over air
superiority from the Luftwaffe. The most
significant change involved the
replacement of the original Allison
V-1710 engine with a supercharged Rolls
Royce Merlin (built under license by
Packard Motor Car Company) that
boasted a max speed of 440 mph and a
range of 1,600 miles.

The rugged, beefy fighter-bomber’s large
fuel tanks allowed for round trip sorties
from England to Berlin, and arrive back
home in time for dinner. Equipped with
six Browning .50 machine guns, the
ferocious dogfighter could simply fly
faster and farther than most other
combat aircraft of its era. Furthermore,
the Mustang claimed the most kills
during WWII with 281 pilots earning the
“Ace” distinction of five kills. Famed test
pilot and aviation record-setter, Chuck
Yeager , achieved the rare feat of
becoming an “Ace in a Day” by shooting
down five Me 109s in his P-51D
“Glamorous Glen III,” which he named
for his wife. (Insert “Right Stuff” pun

The Mustang also saw extensive action
during the Korean War, even after jet
fighters became available. Today, the
beloved P-51D can be seen at several
national museums such as the Military
Aviation Museum in Pungo, Virginia, and
remains a fan favorite at air shows

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Rufai Oladimeji
Lagos State University
100Level, Nigeria.
5. B-29 Superfortress

In the closing months of WWII, U.S.
President Harry S. Truman faced a
difficult decision: continue a protracted
war in the Pacific against a beleaguered
enemy, or become the first nation to use
nuclear weapons on people. Ultimately,
“Give ‘em Hell Harry” chose the latter —
and tasked the Boeing B-29
Superfortress for the top-secret mission
over Japan.

As the Allies prepared for D-Day, the
B-29 conducted its first combat
operation thousands of miles away in
Axis-partnered Thailand. The attack
would serve as a precursor to an
ambitious bombing strategy of the
Japanese mainland, designed by Major
General Curtis LeMay of the XXI Bombing
Command. At the time, the B-29 was the
largest and most advanced bomber ever
built, featuring a pressurized cabin,
analog computer controls, automated
gun stations and four Wright Duplex
Cyclone 2,200-hp engines. More
importantly, however, the high-altitude
aircraft had a range of 3250 miles and a
massive payload capacity.

The Superfortress also proved to be an
effective, nighttime low-altitude bomber
that included several devastating raids
on Tokyo. However, when the Japanese
refused to surrender, Truman gave the
green light to utilize two types of atomic
bombs developed by the Manhattan
Project. A modified, lighter (and mostly
unarmed) version of the B-29 called
“Silverplate” were modified for the
monumental operation.

Finally, on August 6, 1945, the “Enola
Gay” dropped the world’s first atomic
bomb on Hiroshima. Three days later,
the “Bockscar” dropped its payload on
Nagasaki. Japan surrendered shortly
afterward. They remain the only two
nuclear weapons ever used in combat.

4. F-86 Sabre

Yankees-Red Sox. Lakers-Celtics. Army-
Navy. Great rivalries often bring out the
best in opposing teams. The same can be
said of the fierce battles fought between
the F-86 Sabre and MiG-15 in the Korean
War. Oddly, however, sometimes evenly
matched sides can produce lopsided
results regardless of who’s calling the
shots. Such was the case of America’s
first transonic fighter jet that
consistently schooled the Soviet-made
(and frequently Soviet-piloted) Mikoyan-
Gurevich — better known as the MiG.
The F-86 Sabre easily makes this list as
one of the feared and successful combat
jets of all time. Owning an impressive kill
ratio of 10:1 while dueling over “MiG
Alley” , the U.S. warbird had plenty to
crow about. Produced by North
American Aviation (same maker as the
P-51 Mustang) beginning in 1949, the
Sabre was also the first jet designed with
a swept wing to counter the leading edge
compression shock wave. Proving all is
fair in love and war, F-86 designers
capitalized on captured German
aerodynamic data from the
Messerschmitt Me 262, the world’s first
operational jet-powered fighter.
Most Sabres came equipped with six .50
M3 machine guns capable of firing 1,200
rounds per minute. Later variants could
carry up to 2,000 pounds worth of
bombs and/or air-to-ground rockets and
could reach an altitude of nearly 50,000
feet. In his “Beauteous Butch II,” Capt.
Joseph McConnell Jr. became the top
U.S. ace in the Korean war with 16
victories. It’s also worth noting that
future Mercury Astronaut and U.S.

Senator John “The MiG Mad Marine”
Glenn shot down three of the Soviet jets
in his F-86 pilot in 1953. (Insert second
“Right Stuff” pun here).
Over the years, nearly 10,000 F-86s
were produced in a multitude of variants
and became the primary jet fighter of
several Allied air forces until it was
finally retired in Bolivia in 1994.

3. Sea Harrier

The Falklands War between Great Britain
and Argentina turned out to be a short-
lived confrontation with a long-disputed
history dating back over 200 years. The
largely forgettable conflict lasted only 72
days, resulting in a resounding British
victory and the return of its Patagonian
lands that are home to more penguins
than people. However, the extraordinary
show put on by RAF Sea Harriers “Jump
Jets” provided a memorable performance
for the ages.
First developed by British aircraft
manufacturer Hawker Siddeley in the late
1960s, the Harrier (named for a
tenacious bird of prey) became the first
operational jet airplane capable of
vertical/short takeoff and landing (V/
STOL). No runway? No problem.
Powered by a Rolls-Royce Pegasus
turbofan engine with two intakes and
four vector-able nozzles, the Harrier’s
ability to launch like a rocket and hover
like a helicopter (as well as reach a top
speed of 730 mph) put this versatile
weapon in a class all by itself when duty
called in the Spring of 1982.

The Argentine junta (Argentina’s military
regime) decided to flex some muscle and
invade the disputed rocky archipelago
off its deep southern coast. Buenos Ares
reasoned the action would provide a
distraction from the country’s recent
economic woes and hoped that the
United Kingdom wouldn’t bother to
respond militarily. Big mistake. Picking a
similar fight with Chile in the not-as-
challenging Beagle Conflict would have
been a much better idea.

The Royal Navy, as they’ve done for
centuries, quickly mobilized and barreled
into the open seas with all its maritime
might. But this time, they brought with
them a flock of Sea Harriers equipped
with AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles ready to
do the business. All totaled, jump jet
squadrons shot down 21 Argentine
planes (including much faster Mirage III
jets) in air-to-air combat without a single
air-to-air loss. In other words, a clean
sheet for the Three Lions.
But no need to cry for Argentina, folks.

Four years later, the South Americans
got their revenge when Diego Maradona’s
infamous “Hand of God” knocked England
out of the 1986 World Cup and
propelled the Argentines to another Copa
del Mundo. As for the Sea Harrier, the
vaunted aircraft would see additional
combat during the Balkans Crisis before
finally retiring in 2006.

2. B-2 Spirit

Boasting a flying wing design, stealth
technology, and looking more like
something you’d find in a Star Wars
movie, the B-2 Spirit would make even
Darth Vader quake in his boots. Plans for
this long-range strategic bomber had
been around since the 1970s and was
originally intended to carry nuclear
bombs deep into the former Soviet
Union just in case the Cold War suddenly
got boiling hot. But after countless
delays, costly budget overruns, and four
U.S. presidential administrations later,
the Northrup Grumman behemoth finally
became operational in 1997.

The two-seat bomber is powered by four
17,000-pound thrust General Electric
F-118 turbofans, can reach speeds of
just under Mach one, operate at 50,000
feet, hold a whopping 40,000 pounds of
ordnance (conventional or nuclear), and
fly for over 6,000 miles before refueling.
However, it’s main selling point is its
super sneaky stealth capabilities — which
helps explain its jaw-dropping adjusted
price tag of about 2.2 billion a pop.

As the second U.S. warplane with
advanced stealth technology following
the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk, the B-2’s
unique shape makes it virtually invisible
to radar. Additionally, the frame consists
of low-reflective carbon-fiber composites
and a special coating that further
reduces radar reflectivity — a service
probably not offered at your local body
and paint shop.

Stationed at Whiteman AFB near Kansas
City, Missouri, the Spirit first saw action
in the Kosovo War in 1999, and later
served in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. To
date, 21 B-2s have been produced, but
one crashed in Guam in 2008, making it
the most expensive loss of aviation

1. F-22 Raptor

True to its nickname, the F-22 is a
fearsome beast. The lethal combination
of stealth, speed, maneuverability, and a
multitude of other classified bells and
whistles makes the Raptor one of the
baddest birds on the planet. A USAF
pilot with F-22 combat experience put it
this way: “Imagine you’re a sniper at
night with night-vision goggles and a
high-powered rifle and the guy you’re up
against has no goggles and a pistol.

That’s what it’s like flying the F-22.”
The world’s first fifth-generation fighter
jet is a joint project by Lockheed Martin
and Boeing and first entered service in
2005. Its primary role is to provide air
superiority, but it can also serve various
other functions, including ground attack,
electronic warfare and signal
intelligence. After waiting nine long years
in the nest, the Raptor saw its first
action ion 2014, going after ISIS targets
in Northern Syria.

Although the Raptor is capable of
reaching a max speed of Mach 2.25
(1726 mph), one of its defining
characteristics is the ability to cruise at
Mach 1.5 without afterburners. And like
the B-2, the F-22 is almost invisible to
radars — or in pilot jargon, enjoys “low
observability.” In short, it can fly faster
and longer because it burns less fuel,
and is more or less undetectable. Also,
federal law prevents the F-22 from being
exported to other allies and NATO
countries in order to protect its
confidential, hush-hush, stealth

Being on top, however, means there are
plenty of others out there that want to
knock the Raptor off its lofty perch. To
name a few: Sukhoi Su-57 (Russia) ,
Eurofighter Typhoon (European Union),
Dassault Rafale (France) and the Chengdu
J-20 (China) . Good luck.


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