The Most Popular Military Planes in History

Dominance of the skies has played a crucial role in all military conflicts since World War II. The biggest air force is not always the best, but there is a distinct advantage to outnumbering an enemy. This advantage is greatly increased when a military is capable of producing more aircraft on a consistent basis. Here, we are looking at some of the most produced military planes of all time and the roles these aircraft played throughout the years. (Also see, the U.S. has the largest air force in the world.)

To determine the most produced military planes of all time, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed all-time aircraft production totals from Military Factory, an online database of military vehicles, aircraft, arms, and more. Military planes that had more than 12,000 units produced are ranked by their production runs. Supplemental information about the country of origin, year entered service, crew size, maximum speed, roles, and when the military plane was notably used also came from Military Factory.

It is worth noting that a majority of the military planes on this list were produced for use in WWII. While planes were involved in fighting in World War I, technology improved considerably by WWII, and countries relied heavily on aircraft for bombing raids, surveillance, transport and more and both sides had to produce aircraft by the hundreds. The aircraft on this list have played pivotal roles in conflicts over the years and contributed to the evolution of aerial combat and continue to inspire new generations of military aircraft. 

Take the Ilyushin IL-2 Shturmovik, one of the Soviet Union’s most widely-produced aircraft. With over 36,000 units manufactured during WWII, the IL-2 was also known as the “Flying Tank” thanks to the combination of armor protection, performance, and firepower. As a central component of the Soviet air force, its role was pivotal during the Eastern Front combat, providing air support and ground assault capabilities, according to Military Factory. 

On the American side, the Consolidated B-24 Liberator is high up on the list with over 18,000 units produced during World War II. The B-24’s roles included anti-submarine warfare, and reconnaissance and surveillance.

One of the most iconic military aircraft of World War II, and most widely produced, was the North American P-51 Mustang. Over 15,000 units were manufactured, a testament to the aircraft’s impact in aerial combat, according to Military Factory. The P-51 was initially used as a long-range escort for bombers, but later became fighter-bomber. The aircraft remains legendary to this day.

The newest generations of aircraft have nowhere near the production numbers of some older planes, but it can be argued that these new aircraft are so advanced that fewer planes have an outsized impact. (See these warplanes fly faster than the speed of sound.)

Here is a look at the most widely produced military planes of all time:

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