The United States Air Force enjoys a reputation for being America’s go-to for aerial combat. But not all American combat aircraft are owned and operated by the Air Force–it’s a common misconception to regard any airworthy military vehicle as a USAF asset.
In fact, Navy recruiters are said to have had a very difficult time convincing Top Gun fans that the US. Navy and United States Marine Corps routinely hire, train, and deploy combat pilots for a wide range of airframes and missions.
Navy heritage is full of fixed-wing and rotor airframes. From its fleet of aircraft carriers to the Navy’s anti-sub warfare efforts with the P3 Orion, there is a long and rich history of flight among the various branches of military service.
(Photo credit: Tech. Sgt. Andy Dunaway – www.army.mil)
The United States Army has many airframes; a large number of them are either transport, utility aircraft, used for intel or surveillance, etc. But where helicopters are concerned, combat is an important part of the duty. The Boeing AH-64 Apache is an Army attack helicopter with a two-pilot tandem cockpit arrangement, tailwheel landing gear, and a nose-mounted targeting and night vision system.
Army Apache helicopters may be armed with a 30-millimeter chain gun, plus Hellfire missiles and Hydra 70 rockets.
Some sources report that the Army Apache got its start as a development by Hughes Helicopters, the AH-64 being known at one time as “Model 77”. It was intended to replace the AH-1 Cobra and flew its first prototype flight in 1975 but wasn’t introduced to the Army until much later–1986. An advanced version of the Apache, the AH-64D Apache Longbow, was put into service by the U.S. Army in 1997.
American AH-64 Apaches have been used in the Persian Gulf, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
F-35 Lightning II
(image source: AF.mil)
Used by the Navy, Marine Corps, and the Air Force, the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is a single-seat, single engine fighter jet developed as part of the Joint Strike Fighter program. One important reason for the development of this fighter was the need to replace the Marine Corps Harrier “jump jet”.
The Air Force has stated it wishes to use it’s version of the F-35 to replace F-16s and A-10 Thunderbolts. This fighter is equipped with air-to-ground missiles and other ordnance. This aircraft’s arsenal also includes rotary cannon options.
The F-18 Super Hornet
(Source: SN Kevin T. Murray/U.S. Navy. Public Domain)
The United States Navy uses this twin-engine fighter for aircraft carrier operations. There are single-seat versions, dual-seat Super Hornets, equipped with canon and air-to-air missiles. This combat aircraft was originally developed by McDonnell Douglas and began full-scale production in 1997.
The F-18 Super Hornet replaced the F-14 Tomcat. The Super Hornet was used in Navy missions starting in 1999 and has flown in missions alongside the original Hornet.
The Super Hornet had much to live up to–the F14 was retired in 2006, and the F-18 and “Hornet variants” were the main event until the advent of the F-35C Lightning II helped replace a variety of aircraft including the A-6 Intruder, Lockheed S-3 Viking, and others. There was even an electronic warfare version called the EA-18G Growler, which replaced the Navy’s EA-6B Prowler.
The E-2 Hawkeye
(Credit: U.S. Navy/public domain)
The United States Air Force is well known for its Airborne Warning And Control System aircraft (AWACS), but it does not operate the only tactical early warning flights in the military. The Navy operates the E-2 Hawkeye, developed by Northrop Grumman. This is a turboprop aircraft developed in the 50s and 60s as a replacement for the obsolete E-1 Tracer.
This is one of the longest operating carrier-based airframes and its early warning duties play an important role in combat operations. This plane has been redeveloped to include the capability of aerial refueling which promises to extend mission capability and further increase the Navy’s ability to fight offshore.
(Credit: Creative Commons Generic license)
The V-22 is a tilt-rotor aircraft. Developed in 1983 as a Bell Boeing partnership, the first V-22 took to the skies in 1989, but it wouldn’t be until 2000 when United States Marine Corps training began on the V-22. Finally in 2007, the Osprey went into field service with the Marines; it replaced the CH-46 Sea Knight.
The Air Force also started using a version of the Osprey in 2009–the Osprey known as the CV-22B. The Navy announced plans to incorporate the Osprey in aircraft carrier delivery operations; it can be armed with cannon and other non-missile projectile weapons and the aircraft has been considered for missiles similar to Hellfire armaments.
Black Hawk Helicopters
(Photo credit: DoD Media)
The U.S. Army operates multiple versions of the Black Hawk helicopter; there are Army EH-60A Black Hawks used for surveillance, there are Black Hawks used for transport, and there’s also the MH-60 Black Hawk which is described as a multi-function helicopter featuring upgraded avionics, night vision capable cockpit, and “Special Operations mission equipment“.
The MH-60 was eventually phased out for regular Army use and replaced with MH-60Ls. The MH-60s replaced in this way were transferred to National Guard uses. Other iterations or variants of the Black Hawk include:
- EH-60A Black Hawk
- YEH-60B Black Hawk
- EH-60C Black Hawk
- EUH-60L EH-60L Black Hawk
- UH-60Q “Dust Off” Black Hawk
- HH-60M Black Hawk
- HH-60U:HH-60W Jolly Green II
In 1993, Black Hawks were a crucial part of operations associated with the Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia. U.S. Army UH-60s were among the aircraft responsible for air assault and support missions during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The helicopter is mentioned by name in the Hollywood film title, Black Hawk Down.