The United States doesn’t just possess the largest and most powerful air force on the planet — it actually has three of them. The Air Force, Navy, and Army each boast enough airborne assets to claim each of the top three spots on the podium of global air superiority respectively; but despite America’s dominance in the skies, it’s hard to deny that much of the nation’s aerial arsenal is starting to get a bit long in the tooth.
When something works, it’s often a good idea not to “fix it,” and as such, the U.S. military has continued to rely on tried and true platforms for decades — sometimes for years beyond their intended operational lifespans. These aircraft have undergone extensive updates and upgrades over the years, but many of America’s most relied upon aircraft rolled off of assembly lines before their pilots and crews were even born.
It can be tough to really grasp how old some of these birds are in the scope of time, but it becomes a bit easier when you’re given a frame of reference you can relate to. For me, that frame of reference is often movies. 1993, for instance, was a red letter year for film in my book: Jurassic Park, Groundhog Day, Tombstone and about a dozen other childhood-defining films hit theaters that year, and while I may still watch many of them on a regular basis, the intervening decades have a way of creeping into my mind as I re-watch The Fugitive for the twentieth time.
So to give you a better appreciation of just how long some of these aircraft have been defending our nation’s skies — here’s a short list of some popular military airplanes and some of the big movies that came out the same year that they did:
The A-10 Thunderbolt II and the original Star Wars: 1977
Hard as it is to believe, the A-10 first took to the skies the same year Luke Skywalker started kissing his sister. Since then, both franchises are still going strong, with a new wing replacement program for the A-10 expected to keep them in the fight for years to come and Disney’s coffers giving Star Wars new wings of their own.
The F-15 Eagle/F-15 Strike Eagle and the original Rocky: 1976
1976 saw the launch of both Sylvester Stallone’s career and the air superiority platform that, through extensive updates, remains the fastest intercept fighter in America’s arsenal to this day. It wasn’t until 1988 that the F-15 got an injection of power in the form of upgrades to the F-15E Strike Eagle. According to some reports, that’s right around when Stallone himself started injecting himself with power too.
The F/A-18 Hornet/Super Hornet and Animal House: 1978
While the Super Hornet is set to undergo another extensive facelift starting this year, it’s first iterations began flying way back when Delta Tau Chi was still on Double Secret Probation. The platform has since proven itself time and time again as a capable carrier-based fighter, and Animal House has remained hilarious to this day.
AC-130 Spooky II and Bullitt: 1968
If you’re a fan of car chases, you’re familiar with the movie Bullitt. If you’re a fan of huge aircraft with huge guns that can rain hell fire down on enemy positions, you’re familiar with the AC-130 Spooky II. Bullitt defined muscle cars for a generation, but new iterations of the AC-130 will continue to deliver rounds on target for decades to come.
The B-52H Stratofortress and Rebel Without a Cause: 1955
The airborne leg of America’s nuclear triad, the B-52H Stratofortress, has been in service for so long that theoretically, the great grandsons of this aircraft’s first pilots could be flying an updated version of the same plane today. It first took to the skies back when James Dean was still discussed in terms of potential and Eisenhower occupied the Oval Office. While the forthcoming B-21 Raider is slated to replace the newer B-2 Spirit and B-1B Lancer, the B-52 is expected to continue to serve for decades to come.
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