The Air Force has a different kind of plane for every task, but its fighter jets are often its most visible aircraft, carrying out a variety of missions over any kind of terrain.
The first F-15 arrived in the early 1970s, and the highly advanced (though technically troubled) F-35 came online in the past few years. In that period, the Air Force’s fighters have operated all over the world, adapting to new challenges in order to dominate the battlefield and control the skies.
Below, you can see each of the fighter jets the Air Force has in service:
The F-15 is an all-weather, highly manoeuvrable tactical fighter designed to gain and maintain air superiority over the battlefield. It first became operational in 1975 and has been the Air Force’s primary fighter jet and intercept platform for decades.
The F-15’s superior manoeuvrability and acceleration are achieved through high engine thrust-to-weight ratio and low wing loading, or the ratio of aircraft weight to its wing area. Combined with the high thrust-to-weight ratio, low wing loading lets the aircraft turn tightly without losing airspeed. The F-15’s multimission avionics system includes the pilot’s head-up display, which projects all essential flight information gathered by the integrated avionics system onto the windscreen. This display allows the pilot to track and destroy an enemy aircraft without having to look down at cockpit instruments.
F-15E Strike Eagle
The F-15E Strike Eagle is a two-seat variant of the F-15 Eagle that became operational in late 1989. It is a dual-role fighter designed for air-to-air and air-to-ground missions.
It can operate day or night, at low altitude, and in all weather conditions, thanks to an array of avionics and electronics systems.
“One of the most important additions to the F-15E is the rear cockpit, and the weapons systems officer,” the Air Force says. “On four screens, this officer can display information from the radar, electronic warfare or infrared sensors, monitor aircraft or weapons status and possible threats, select targets, and use an electronic ‘moving map’ to navigate.”
F-16 Fighting Falcon
The F-16 is a compact, multirole fighter that first became operational in early 1979. It has all-weather operating capability and better manoeuvrability and combat radius against potential adversaries.
There are more than 1,000 in service, and it is able to fulfil a number of roles, including air-to-air combat, ground attack, and electronic warfare.
“It provides a relatively low-cost, high-performance weapon system for the United States and allied nations,” the Air Force says.
The F-22, introduced in late 2005, is considered the US Air Force’s first 5th-generation fighter. It’s low-observable technology gives it an advantage over air-to-air and surface-to-air threats.
“The F-22 … is designed to project air dominance, rapidly and at great distances and defeat threats attempting to deny access to our nation’s Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps,” the Air Force says.
F-35A Lightning II
The F-35A is the most recent addition to the Air Force’s fighter ranks. Variants are being built for the Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy.
It’s designed to replace ageing fighter and attack platforms, including the A-10 Thunderbolt and F-16.
F-35s have been introduced to some air forces, but the program is still in development in the US and continues to face challenges.
The Pentagon said in April 2018 that it would stop accepting most deliveries of the jet from Lockheed Martin because of a dispute over which party was responsible for the cost of a production error found in 2017.
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