In modern air forces, the distinction between bombers, fighter-bombers, and attack aircraft has become blurred. Many attack aircraft, even ones that look like fighters, are optimized to drop bombs, with very little ability to engage in aerial combat. Following are the top ten military bombers of all time.
10. Handley Page 0/100
Aircraft technology was only 10 years old at the start of World War I, but within a few years it had developed at an extraordinary pace. Great Britain's first heavy bomber, the Handley Page 0/100, entered service in 1916 as a means of attacking the German Zeppelin bases that were causing huge damage to London. Powered by two Rolls Royce engines with a speed of 79 mph, these 100-foot wingspan aircraft were able to deliver their 2,000 pounds of bombs with remarkable accuracy. After the war, the Handley was converted and formed the staple flying machine for the first civilian airlines in Europe.
9. Tupelov Tu-95
This huge Soviet long-range bomber, nicknamed the Bear, was designed to carry up to four nuclear bombs to the U.S. mainland from bases in Russia. Launched at the Moscow air show in 1955, its existence led American planners to believe there was a bomber gap between the Soviet Union and the U.S. In reality, the Bear stretched Soviet technology to the limit, but it could still pack a big punch and for three decades was a major threat to Western forces.
8. Avro Lancaster
The Lancaster was Britain's most famous heavy bomber of World War II. Capable of carrying a bomb load of up to 22,000 pounds, Lancasters, which flew at night, pounded German cities and factories. As Bomber Command's favorite aircraft, the Lancaster was used on many specialized operations, such as the 1943 dam-busting strike and battleship Tirpitz sinking raids. But the success of the Lancaster came at a high price, with over 55,000 crewmen lost in the course of the war.
7. Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress
In 1937 the Boeing Aircraft Company built America's first all-metal, four-engine heavy bomber, the legendary B-17 Flying Fortress. Bristling with 13 0.5 machine guns, and with an average bomb load of 6,000 pounds, the "Forts" took on the worst the Luftwaffe had to offer. Flying in formations of up to 1,000 bomber daylight raids, the B-17s attacked some of the most heavily defended targets in occupied Europe. Suffering unprecedented losses, the young American airmen in their B-17s helped turn the tide of the war in Europe by destroying the Nazi war machine.
6. De Havilland Mosquito
Nicknamed the "Wooden Wonder," the Mosquito was perhaps the most versatile aircraft to see action during World War II. As a bomber, it was also the fastest. Constructed of wood, the plane was almost undetectable to radar. In addition, because of its speed, it carried no defensive armament as it could outrun any enemy fighter. With a payload of 2,000 pounds (later upgraded to 4,000 pounds) and the ability to fly from 10 feet to 31,000 feet, it could take the fight right to the enemy's door. By the end of World War II, more than 40 variants of this remarkable aircraft had been in action.
5. Junkers Ju-88
Believed by many to be the most important German bomber of World War II, the Ju-88 was in front-line service throughout the 1939-45 conflict. Its versatile design enabled it to be used as a bomber, dive bomber, torpedo bomber, heavy fighter and night fighter. Although heavier than the Heinkel 111 and the Dornier 17, it was the fastest of the Nazi bomber fleet. Armed with seven .303 machine guns and a payload of nearly 8,000 pounds, this aircraft was a formidable opponent during its service life.
4. Boeing B-47 Stratojet
When the B-47 Stratojet first took to the skies in 1947, few people in the Air Force, or even Boeing, were enthusiastic about the design. The B-47 used swept-wing technology captured from Nazi Germany and an unusual tricycle undercarriage, which led many to think it would serve as no more than a research plane. But by mid-1948 it became clear to the Air Force and Boeing executives that the airplane far surpassed all of its contemporaries with straight wings. Test pilot Chuck Yeager was sent to follow a B-47 in a jet fighter to check its speed. He radioed to the B-47's civilian pilot, "I can't keep up." The next day, the B-47 set a new cross-country speed record at an average of 609.8 mph. Within only a few years, the plane became the primary bomber for the Strategic Air Command and eventually more than 2,000 B-47s were built. Though without the range and payload of its successor, the B-52, the B-47 "held the line" as a nuclear deterrent bomber in the early years of the Cold War.
3.. Boeing B-29 Super Fortress
The B-29 had a range of over 3,500 miles, an operational ceiling of 31,850 feet and a top speed of 358 mph. It could carry a huge payload of 20,000 pounds of bombs and was armed with 12 .50-calibre machine guns and a 20-mm cannon. The aircraft's design was very advanced. It featured aerodynamic fuselage, and the crew compartment was pressurized and fitted with bullet-proof glass. Used extensively in conventional bombing missions against the Japanese, the B-29 is best remembered for dropping atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and thus ending World War II.
2. Northrop Grumman B-2 Stealth Bomber
The flying-wing concept was brought into the world of advanced stealth technology by Northrop with the B-2 bomber. Coated with special composite laminate and secret paint, the B-2 is almost invisible to radar and more B-2s have been identified as UFOs than any other aircraft. Based in the U.S., B-2s on refuelling missions can hit any part of the world. At $2.2 billion per aircraft, the cost is awesome, but so is this aircraft.
1. Boeing B-52 Stratofortress
With a maximum speed of 650 mph, a range of over 8,000 miles and the capability to drop 70,000 pounds of bombs, the B-52 is the most lethal bomber in the world. It can also deliver nuclear weapons, cruise missiles and precision bombs. In addition to its deterrent role during the Cold War, it was also used to bomb North Vietnam. In both Afghanistan and Iraq it hit enemy targets with a heavy punch. Despite being built with 1950s technology, the B-52 is likely to remain in active service until 2045.