Since the first Wright Brother planes took to the skies, military aircraft quickly become essential for aerial combat, reconnaissance and bombing roles. The great planes of the 20th century have dominated the skies in various conflicts. These are a few of the great military aircraft of the 20th century.

The P-51 Mustang

During 1943, the Allies began to expand bombing missions targeting German industrial plants. However, a good number of Allied planes were at first lost to enemy fighter aircraft. The arrival of the P-51 provided Allied bombers with the first long-range bomber escort. Not only was the P-51 a long-distance bomber escort, it also had good speed and agility.

When in combat with German aircraft such as the 109s, thousands of enemy planes were lost in action. This ensured that the Allied bombers could reach their targets and Allied bombing became increasingly more effective in 1944. The P-51 was one of the most essential Allied aircraft.

The Spitfire

The Spitfire was a great British plane that first developed during the 1930s. As such, Spitfires were ready for action in 1940 during some key months. To land German troops on British soil, air superiority would be a requirement for any such amphibious landing. Along with the Hurricane the Spitfire downed thousands of German aircraft, including 109s, during 1940. This would ensure that the RAF retained a degree of air superiority.

In addition to this, Spitfires also flew in the Mediterranean and were among the first RAF photo-reconnaissance planes. Although the Spitfire had a shorter range than the P-51, and was less effective for escort missions, it had greater maneuverability than most aircraft models of its era.

The F6F

To reduce their own aircraft losses, the Allies had to introduce new aircraft models in 1943. So the US Air Force introduced the F6F in the latter months of 1943. In November F6Fs flew in the Gilbert Islands Campaign, at Tarawa. In that campaign there was a notable reduction in Allied aircraft losses, and the Japanese lost more Zeros. The F6F provided its pilots with both greater range and speed than the outmoded F4F.

The arrival of the F6F marked the beginning of Allied dominance in the air. Japan had little that could match this plane. The A6M soon became outdated in 1944 and were lost in increasing numbers.

In 1944, the IJN sent a carrier fleet to defeat the Allied landings in the Marianas. Then it became all the clearer that the navy's planes could not match the new class of Allied aircraft. Hundreds of Japanese planes took off from their carriers, but few reached their designated targets as the F6F intercepted and shot them down from the skies. Even fewer returned to their carriers, and by the end of the Battle of the Philippine Sea much of the IJN's fleet air arm had been lost. Then it was left to the IJN's battleships to defeat the Allied naval presence around Leyte Gulf.

The F6F had won a great victory, and continued to provide air support in further campaigns around the home islands. Estimates have suggested that this plane downed Japanese aircraft at a ratio of 19:1. With such losses Japan's aircraft steadily disappeared from the skies altogether.

The A6M Zero

The  Zero was one of the most potent Axis aircraft in the Pacific War.[2] It was a Japanese aircraft that had been operational before the Japanese airstrike at Pearl Harbor that wiped out US battleships and hundreds of aircraft. It was in the skies of China during 1940 that the A6M began to wipe out Allied aircraft, and here the Chinese planes were no match for the A6M.

The A6M had a number of advantages. One of its primary advantages was its long distance, so the plane could travel some distance from a carrier or airbase. In addition to this, the A6M had good maneuverability and was armed with effective guns. As such, when combined with the best pilots of the Japanese air force the Zero was perhaps the most devastating aircraft of the Pacific War during the first few years.

From the outset, the A6M Zero provided air support for Japanese bombers at Pearl Harbor. Admittedly, as bombers took out most of the US planes stationed there the A6M did not come up against many US planes, but nonetheless it ensured that any US aircraft that did get up in the air remained there for only a short period.

The A6M was most effective during the Dutch East Indies Campaign. During this campaign the aircraft defeated all the various ABDA (America, British, Dutch and Australia) aircraft models that took to the skies, ensuring Japanese air superiority. As such, the Dutch East Indies fell to the Japanese in 1942.

The A6M Zero was the aircraft to beat for the Allies. Their early models had been relatively ineffective and outmatched by the Zeros, which gained the Japanese air superiority during their victories in 1942. Although the Zero may have had some short comings, the Allies still had to begin development of new aircraft models to reduce their own losses as the Zero downed thousands of Allied planes in the Pacific War.

By 1943, the new Allied aircraft models F6F and F4U rolled off production lines and were ready for action in the Pacific War. It was only when the Zero began to come up against these aircraft that it became clear that it was no longer the best aircraft in the Pacific War. A6M Zeros were downed in increasing number as the Pacific War continued into 1944.

Although A6Ms remained in the skies for the duration of the war, they would never again eclipse the Allies’ planes as in 1941 and ’42. Victory at the Battle of the Philippine Sea highlighted the superiority of Allied aircraft as hundreds of Japanese planes were lost in action, and by 1945 the A6M was entirely outdated. Despite this, the Zero was still the most formidable Japanese combat aircraft of the Pacific War which had a big part in Japan’s victories in 1941 and ’42.

The MiG-15

One of the best jet fighters in the postwar era was the MiG-15. This Russian plane was superior to any American jet fighter in 1950. As the Korean War began, the MiG-15 gave the Communists the advantage in the air, which undermined the USA's daylight bombing campaigns during this war. The MiG-15 became the primary plane of the Soviet Union and other Communist countries and had many variations. The MiG-15 and its variations would also remain as one the most potent Cold War aircraft after this war

The B-17 Bomber

The US Air Force sent the B-17 bomber on a variety of missions during the 1940s, but most notably in Germany and occupied Europe. This American plane dropped thousands of bombs on industrial targets and cities. Oil refineries, ball-bearing and aircraft factories were just a few of the industrial targets of the B-17 bombers. Such raids greatly decimated the Reich's industrial production of armaments and munitions. The B – 17 decisively undermined the supplies for the German army.

The Dr.1 Triplane

One of the finest planes of the WW1 era was the German Fokker Dr.1 Triplane.[3] This aircraft was highly maneuverable, so the great German pilot aces of this war downed a number of Entente aircraft with it during 1917 and ’18. It was as good, if not better, than any of the enemy planes it came up, against albeit somewhat slower than some.  However, as it was only produced in relatively small numbers it could not ensure air superiority for the Germans during these years.

These are some of the great military planes of the 20th century. They were among the finest military aircraft of their eras. Check out the videos below that show a couple of them in flight.

The F6F