The F-4 Phantom. The B-24 Liberator. The A-10 Thunderbolt. The B-52 Stratofortress. The F-117A Nighthawk. The U-2. The SR-71.
The fleet of planes flown by airmen represent perhaps the most dizzying array of aircraft in the history of manned flight.
To mark the Air Force’s 70th birthday, Air Force Times asked some of the service’s top leaders to name their favorite plane.
Gen. Dave Goldfein, chief of staff
You always love the airplane you took into combat, so I’m always going to love the F-16. But one of the workhorses of our Air Force … is the C-130. We’re into the J model, and it does everything, when you think about it. It’s an AC-130, it’s an MC-130. We’re delivering cargo. It’s just an incredible machine. I think, as the history of the Air Force is written, for me, the C-130 is going to be central, having made a strategic-level impact.
Secretary Heather Wilson
The SR-71. That is just too cool. Did you ever hear them take off? I was at RAF Mildenhall as a lieutenant and a captain, and they used to fly out of there. I was not near the flightline, but it didn’t matter.
Personally, my dad was a crew chief on an F-84. The Thunderjet was the hottest jet, and the U-2 ... is also kind of a favorite.
Gen. Mike Holmes, commander of Air Combat Command
My favorite plane is the F-15C. I did fly that airplane for about 3,000 hours, but it’s an example of what the Air Force does. We took a good airplane, and then the guys in the F-15 community figured out a really simple plan that they could teach to anybody and that anybody could execute. That airplane and the people who flew it bought for the United States about 20 years of that deterrence, [because] nobody wanted to take them on. In fact, our adversaries would rather have buried their airplanes in the dirt next to their airfields than take off.
Lt. Gen. Darryl Roberson, commander of Air Education and Training Command
My favorite aircraft that I have flown is the F-22, but my heart will always be with the F-15E Strike Eagle. That’s because all three wars I flew in were with two engines, two people, and a lot of firepower for both air-to-air and air-to-ground.
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright
It’s the AC-130, the most heavily armed gunship in history. With a combat history dating to Vietnam, this workhorse has done it all, from close-air support to air interdiction to armed reconnaissance. It provides top cover for troops in contact, convoy escort and point air defense. If there is one aircraft America owns that our enemies fear, it’s the AC-130 gunship.
Larry Spencer, former vice chief of staff, president of the Air Force Association
My favorite airplane is the C-130. When I came in the Air Force as a very young one-striper, I was stationed at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina, and they had C-130s. I was just absolutely fascinated by those airplanes. I would sit there for hours watching those airplanes take off and land.
I know they’re not the fanciest airplane, and they don’t go real fast, and they don’t go real high, but they are great. They call it the Hercules for a reason.
It’s sort of that blue-collar, lunch pail, hard hat, carrying soldiers in the back, dropping them out, flying LAPES [low-altitude parachute extraction system] missions. ... It’s just a tough airplane that showed its mettle over time.
Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, commander, Pacific Air Forces
That’s an easy one for me. The F-16. I’ve been flying the F-16 for over 30 years. It’s an incredible airplane.
It is a great example of how continuing to modernize the force allows you to take an airplane that I flew as a second lieutenant and make it equally as relevant today. The F-16 is a sports car. It does most missions that the Air Force does.
Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, commander, Air Force Materiel Command
My favorite airplane is one that only flew for a short time, but I spent five years of my life on it, and that’s the Airborne Laser. It’s a modified 747, and its official name was YAL-1.