Top Ten: May 12, 2005

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What are the best bombers out there at present? These are the planes that are designed to bring a lot of payload over a long distance, and to deliver it accurately. So, which bombers are the best at what they do?

10 (tie). Il-28/H-5 Beagle. This aircraft was built in huge numbers (6300+ by the former Soviet Union, plus about 2000 built in China), and served in a number of conflicts, including the Israeli-Arab Wars. The length of service is not unusual for a bomber (1949 to the present), and it still delivers a reasonable bomb load (6600 pounds).

10 (tie). British Aerospace Canberra. Like the Il-28, it has been around for a long time (since 1949). Has also served in a number of wars (including Vietnam as the B-57). Carried 8000 pounds of bombs.

9. Tu-22 Blinder. The first supersonic bomber to enter Russian service. Capable of carrying 26,500 pounds of bombs or a single AS-4/Kh-22 Kitchen missile for use against land or naval targets. Really an interim type until the introduction of the Tu-22M Backfire bomber.

8. F-111/FB-111. The F-111 never did achieve what Robert McNamara unrealistically expected it to, but it turned into a superb tactical bomber. One of the fastest (Mach 2.5), it could still deliver 37,500 pounds of ordinance. Like the F-14, this is a plane that was retired from American service far too soon (mainly because it was expensive to maintain).

7. Tu-16/H-6 Badger. This is a plane that became the backbone of Soviet Naval Aviation in the 1960s and 1970s, before theTu-22M entered service in years. Also produced in China, it has proven to be a versatile aircraft, service as an electronic warfare platform, a reconnaissance plane, and as a tanker.

6. Tu-95 Bear. This is a long-range plane that has also proven highly versatile. Not only is it still a major part of the bomber force for the Russian Air Force, it also serves as a maritime patrol aircraft and as a reconnaissance plane. It holds the distinction of being the only propeller-driven airplane to replace a jet bomber.

5. Tu-160 Blackjack. The Russian copy of the B-1 never really lived up to its potential. That said, what is available is still a solid bomber. It carries 40,000 pounds of bombs, but can also carry a dozen air-launched cruise missiles. Production was cut short due to the collapse of the Soviet Union. It has a range of 14,600 kilometers.

4. B-52G/H Stratofortress. This is probably one of the best bombers ever built. Capable of long range (18,520 km without mid-air refueling) and carrying a heavy payload (50,000 pounds of bombs). It has proven highly versatile, capable of carrying cruise missiles for attacking land targets, and Harpoon anti-ship missiles for maritime strike. The B-52G was retired before its time.

3. Tu-22M Backfire. This is arguably the modern bomber built in the largest numbers (578). Serves with both the Russian Air Force and Russian Navy. Capable of carrying 52,910 pounds of bombs, its primary weapon was the AS-4/Kh-22 Kitchen. Probably the best bomber to serve in Russia.

2. B-1B Lancer. This is a bomber that has been given a bad rap. This bomber carries the most payload of any American bomber (64,000 pounds), and was fast (Mach 1.25). Probably the most under-appreciated bomber in American service. Often goes on missions only using its three internal bays, yet it still hauls more bombs than a B-52.

1. B-2A Spirit. Probably the best bomber ever built, and well worth the price tag ($2 billion each for the 20 planes in service). The plane carries 40,000 pounds of bombs, and can fly as far as 12,225 kilometers without the need for refueling. The planes real strength is its low radar-cross section, which means that often the first warning it is on a 
strike mission will be when it drops its JDAMs. The only problem is that the United States so few of them. Harold C. Hutchison (hchutch@ix.netcom.com)

 

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