The US Navy has produced some of the world’s best naval aircraft and exported them to allies all around the world. They operated some of the very best naval aircraft during WW2, following that, the likes of the F-4 Phantom and the F-14 Tomcat continued that tradition during the Cold War. Today the Navy’s advanced F-18 Super Hornet and the brand new F-35C Lightning II are perhaps without equal in navies around the world.
The US Naval air force is in its own right one of the largest and most powerful air forces in the world. The U.S. Marine Corps is its sister service who also operates more aircraft of its own. The Navy operates some 532 Boeing F/A-18E/Fs alone — that is more than the total number of aircraft in service for most air forces around the world.
Here are the Navy’s top aircraft carrier-based aircraft during its history.
8/8 Douglas SBD Dauntless
The Douglas SBD Dauntless was the venerable American naval diver bomber of World War 2 and is perhaps best known for destroying the heart of the unbeaten Japanese aircraft carrier fleet of the war — the Kido Butai.
In just six minutes, they handed the Japanese a blow from which they would never recover. They destroyed the Japanese aircraft carriers during the Battle of Midway the Akagi, Kaga, Sōryū, and then later on in the day the remaining Hiryū (plus a heavy cruiser for good measure). Nearly 6,000 were produced and the last of them were retired in Mexico in 1959.
7/8 Vought F4U Corsair
The Vought F4U Corsair was an American fighter that was used extensively throughout America’s involvement in the Second World War and through to the Korean War. It was produced from 1942-1953 and was in service in the United States until it was retired in 1953 but continued to see foreign use until Honduras finally retired theirs in 1979.
The Corsair was designed for carrier operations. It became one of the ablest carrier-based fighter bombers of the war, and it is reported that it achieved an impressive kill ratio of 11:1.
6/8 Grumman F6F Hellcat
The Grumman F6F Hellcat was a mass-produced American WW2 fighter that became famous as a well-designed and rugged carrier fighter. It was able to outperform the Japanese A6M Zero, as well its faster US cousin, the Corsair.
The Hellcat had a very impressive production with over 12,000 aircraft being built during the later years of the war from 1943 to 1945. They were also used in the French and Royal Navies.
5/8 McDonnell F3H Demon
The McDonnell F3H Demon was a carrier-based jet fighter and entered production in 1956 with 519 being produced. Its sole operator being the US Navy. It had a relatively short service span, being retired only eight years later.
It was replaced by the famous F-4 Phantom II, which few aircraft of the time could compete with. The Demon was withdrawn from service before it could be used in the Vietnam War.
4/8 F-4 Phantom II
The F-4 Phantom II was developed for the United States Navy back in the 1950s and proved so capable that it was also procured by the US Marine Corps and the US Air Force, and then was exported to many air forces around the world. It saw an impressive production run of 5,195 aircraft.
The F-4 Phantom II remains in service in Greece, Turkey, Iran, and South Korea and while it was in service in the Israeli Air Force it saw extensive combat during the Arab-Israeli wars.
3/8 F-14 Tomcat
The F-14 Tomcat was famous for its variable-sweep wings and was the naval aircraft of Tom Cruise’s epic movie Top Gun. Today the US Navy has retired all its venerable Tomcats in favor of the more capable F-18 Super Hornet, although some Tomcats remain in service today in the Iranian Air Force.
The F-14 Tomcat was an interceptor, air superiority, and multirole fighter and first entered service in 1974. It was retired by the Navy in 2006. 712 F-14s in total were built, and they replaced the aging F-4 Phantom.
2/8 F/A-18 Super Hornet
The F/A-18 Super Hornet is a very advanced naval multirole fighter that is variously described as a 4th generation, 4.5 generation, or even with the latest variants, 5th generation fighter jet. Since 1995, over 608 have been produced, and it is currently being complemented by the new F-35C Lightning II fighter.
The Advanced Super Hornet is still being procured by the Navy with delivery set to continue until 2023.
1/8 F-35C Lightning II
Infamous for its lengthy delays and massive cost overruns, the F-35 Lightning II is finally in mass production. This super advanced 5th generation stealthy multirole fighter jet comes in three variants, the F-35A, F-35B, and the F-35C.
The F-35C is the variant specially designed to operate off American aircraft carriers (although the British will be using the F-35B to work off their aircraft carriers). Compared to the F-35A the F-35C has large wings with foldable wingtip sections and is designed for catapult-assisted take-off but arrested recovery on carriers.
The United States Navy has a long and proud history of operating some of the most advanced naval aircraft around the world. And that looks set to continue deep into the future.