Military aviation
Military aviation is the use of aircraft
An aircraft is a vehicle that is able to fly by gaining support from the air, or, in general, the atmosphere of a planet. An aircraft counters the force of gravity by using either static lift or by using the dynamic lift of an airfoil, or in a few cases the downward thrust from jet engines.Although...

 and other flying machines for the purposes of conducting or enabling warfare, including national airlift (cargo
Cargo is goods or produce transported, generally for commercial gain, by ship, aircraft, train, van or truck. In modern times, containers are used in most intermodal long-haul cargo transport.-Marine:...

) capacity to provide logistical supply to forces stationed in a theater or along a front. Air power includes the national means of conducting such warfare including the intersection of transport and war craft. The wide variety of military aircraft includes bomber
A bomber is a military aircraft designed to attack ground and sea targets, by dropping bombs on them, or – in recent years – by launching cruise missiles at them.-Classifications of bombers:...

s, fighters
Fighter aircraft
A fighter aircraft is a military aircraft designed primarily for air-to-air combat with other aircraft, as opposed to a bomber, which is designed primarily to attack ground targets...

, fighter bombers, transports, trainers, and reconnaissance aircraft. These varied types of aircraft allow for the completion of a wide variety of objectives.


Armed conflict has always been a catalyst for technological development, and the effect of war on aircraft development has been profound. The first military uses of aviation involved lighter-than-air balloons; in the Battle of Fleurus
Battle of Fleurus (1794)
In the Battle of Fleurus on 26 June 1794, the army of the First French Republic under General Jean-Baptiste Jourdan faced the Coalition Army commanded by Prince Josias of Coburg in the most decisive battle of the Flanders Campaign in the Low Countries during the French Revolutionary Wars...

 in 1794, the French successfully used the observation balloon l'Entreprenant to watch Austrian troop movements. The use of lighter-than-air aircraft in warfare became more prevalent in the 19th century, including regular use in the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

. Lighter-than-air military aviation persisted into World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, but became less used as heavier-than-air aircraft were improved.

Heavier-than-air aircraft were recognized as having military applications early on. A Wright Model A was purchased in 1909 by the U.S. Army Signal Corps, and in 1911 the Italians used a variety of aircraft types in reconnaissance, photo-reconnaissance, and bombing roles as part of the Italo-Turkish War
Italo-Turkish War
The Italo-Turkish or Turco-Italian War was fought between the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Italy from September 29, 1911 to October 18, 1912.As a result of this conflict, Italy was awarded the Ottoman provinces of Tripolitania, Fezzan, and...

. The earliest military role filled by aircraft was reconnaissance
Reconnaissance is the military term for exploring beyond the area occupied by friendly forces to gain information about enemy forces or features of the environment....

, however, World War I saw military aviation rapidly embrace many specialized types, such as scouts, artillery observers, fighters, bombers, etc. World War II saw even more rapid advancement in aircraft technology, with large performance increases and the introduction of aircraft into an increasing number of roles. Aircraft also played a much larger role, with many notable engagements being decided through the use of military aviation, such as the Battle of Britain
Battle of Britain
The Battle of Britain is the name given to the World War II air campaign waged by the German Air Force against the United Kingdom during the summer and autumn of 1940...

 or the Attack on Pearl Harbor
Attack on Pearl Harbor
The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike conducted by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning of December 7, 1941...

. Carrier aviation
Aircraft carrier
An aircraft carrier is a warship designed with a primary mission of deploying and recovering aircraft, acting as a seagoing airbase. Aircraft carriers thus allow a naval force to project air power worldwide without having to depend on local bases for staging aircraft operations...

 came to play a major role during World War II, with most major fleets realizing that the aircraft carrier was a much more potent weapon than the battleship
A battleship is a large armored warship with a main battery consisting of heavy caliber guns. Battleships were larger, better armed and armored than cruisers and destroyers. As the largest armed ships in a fleet, battleships were used to attain command of the sea and represented the apex of a...

, and devoting massive resources to the creation of new carriers and the destruction of enemy carriers. The introduction of the jet engine
Jet engine
A jet engine is a reaction engine that discharges a fast moving jet to generate thrust by jet propulsion and in accordance with Newton's laws of motion. This broad definition of jet engines includes turbojets, turbofans, rockets, ramjets, pulse jets...

, radar
Radar is an object-detection system which uses radio waves to determine the range, altitude, direction, or speed of objects. It can be used to detect aircraft, ships, spacecraft, guided missiles, motor vehicles, weather formations, and terrain. The radar dish or antenna transmits pulses of radio...

, strategic bombing
Strategic bombing
Strategic bombing is a military strategy used in a total war with the goal of defeating an enemy nation-state by destroying its economic ability and public will to wage war rather than destroying its land or naval forces...

, and early missiles and computers are World War II advancements which are felt to the present day.

Post World War II, the development of military aviation was spurred less by massive military conflict and more by the tense stand-off between super-powers during the Cold War. The helicopter
A helicopter is a type of rotorcraft in which lift and thrust are supplied by one or more engine-driven rotors. This allows the helicopter to take off and land vertically, to hover, and to fly forwards, backwards, and laterally...

 began to appear at the end of World War II and eventually matured into an indispensable part of military aviation. The need to continue to out-perform potential opponents meant that rapid development of new technologies and aircraft designs continued in the U.S.S.R. and the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 among others, and designs were tested in several conflicts, such as the Korean War
Korean War
The Korean War was a conventional war between South Korea, supported by the United Nations, and North Korea, supported by the People's Republic of China , with military material aid from the Soviet Union...

 and the Vietnam War
Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was a Cold War-era military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War and was fought between North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and the government of...

. The 1980s through to the present day were characterized by incredible advances in electronics, stealth technology, and both offensive and defensive systems. Today, a country's military aviation forces are often the first line of defense against an attack, or the first forces to attack an enemy, and military aviation forces (or lack thereof) have proved decisive in several recent conflicts such as the Gulf War
Gulf War
The Persian Gulf War , commonly referred to as simply the Gulf War, was a war waged by a U.N.-authorized coalition force from 34 nations led by the United States, against Iraq in response to Iraq's invasion and annexation of Kuwait.The war is also known under other names, such as the First Gulf...


Types of military aircraft

Ground-attack aircraft can be used to provide support for friendly ground troops. Some are able to carry conventional or nuclear weapons far behind enemy lines to strike priority ground targets. Attack helicopters
Attack helicopter
An attack helicopter is a military helicopter with the primary role of an attack aircraft, with the capability of engaging targets on the ground, such as enemy infantry and armored vehicles...

 attack enemy armor and provide close air support
Close air support
In military tactics, close air support is defined as air action by fixed or rotary winged aircraft against hostile targets that are close to friendly forces, and which requires detailed integration of each air mission with fire and movement of these forces.The determining factor for CAS is...

 for ground troops.

Bombers are normally larger, heavier, and less maneuverable than fighter aircraft. They are capable of carrying large payloads of bombs. Bombers are used almost exclusively for ground attacks and not fast or agile enough to take on enemy fighters head-to-head. A few have a single engine and require one pilot to operate and others have two or more engines and require crews of two or more.

The main role of Fighters
Fighter aircraft
A fighter aircraft is a military aircraft designed primarily for air-to-air combat with other aircraft, as opposed to a bomber, which is designed primarily to attack ground targets...

is destroying enemy aircraft in air-to-air combat. Many are fast and highly maneuverable. They are capable of carrying a variety of weapons, including machine guns and guided missiles. Many modern fighters can attack from a great distance.

A Multirole combat aircraft
Multirole combat aircraft
A multirole combat aircraft is an aircraft designed to act in at least two different roles in combat. The primary role is usually a fighter—hence, it is as often called a multirole fighter—while the secondary role is usually air-to-surface attack. More roles are added, such as air reconnaissance,...

can be a fighter or a bomber, depending on what the mission calls for. This term normally only applies to fixed-wing aircraft.

Reconnaissance aircraft
Reconnaissance aircraft
A reconnaissance aircraft is a manned military aircraft designed, or adapted, to carry out aerial reconnaissance.-History:The majority of World War I aircraft were reconnaissance designs...

are primarily used to gather intelligence. They are equipped with photographic, infrared, radar, and television sensors. Some are equipped with special electronic gear for detecting submarines, such as sonar, and others can give early warnings of enemy approach. This role is increasingly being filled by spy satellites
Spy satellite
A spy satellite is an Earth observation satellite or communications satellite deployed for military or intelligence applications....

 and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Military transport aircraft
Military transport aircraft
Military transport aircraft are typically fixed and rotary wing cargo aircraft which are used to deliver troops, weapons and other military equipment by a variety of methods to any area of military operations around the surface of the planet, usually outside of the commercial flight routes in...

are primarily used to transport troops and supplies. Cargo can be attached to pallets for quick unloading. Cargo also may be discharged from flying aircraft on parachute
A parachute is a device used to slow the motion of an object through an atmosphere by creating drag, or in the case of ram-air parachutes, aerodynamic lift. Parachutes are usually made out of light, strong cloth, originally silk, now most commonly nylon...

s. Also included in this category are aerial tankers; these planes can refuel other aircraft while in flight. Helicopters
Military helicopter
A military helicopter is a helicopter that is either specifically built or converted for use by military forces. A military helicopter's mission is a function of its design or conversion...

 and gliders
Military glider
Military gliders have been used by the military of various countries for carrying troops and heavy equipment to a combat zone, mainly during the Second World War. These engineless aircraft were towed into the air and most of the way to their target by military transport planes, e.g...

 can transport troops and supplies to areas where other aircraft would be unable to land.

Experimental aircraft
Experimental aircraft
An experimental aircraft is an aircraft that has not yet been fully proven in flight. Often, this implies that new aerospace technologies are being tested on the aircraft, though the label is more broad....

aircraft are designed in order to test advanced aerodynamic, structural, avionic, or propulsion concepts. These are usually well instrumented, with performance data telemetered on radio-frequency data links to ground stations located at the test ranges where they are flown.

Air forces

An air force is the branch
Military organization
Military organization is the structuring of the armed forces of a state so as to offer military capability required by the national defence policy. In some countries paramilitary forces are included in a nation's armed forces...

 of a nation's armed forces that is responsible for aerial warfare as distinct from the army, navy or other branch. Most nations either maintain an air force or, in the case of smaller and less well-developed countries, an air wing (see List of air forces). Air forces are usually tasked with the air defense of a country, as well as strategic bombing, interdiction, close air support, intelligence gathering, battlespace management and transport functions. Air force operations may also include space-based operations such as reconnaissance or satellite operations.

Other branches of a nation's armed forces may use aviation (naval aviation
Naval aviation
Naval aviation is the application of manned military air power by navies, including ships that embark fixed-wing aircraft or helicopters. In contrast, maritime aviation is the operation of aircraft in a maritime role under the command of non-naval forces such as the former RAF Coastal Command or a...

 and army aviation
Army aviation
Army Aviation refers to aviation-related units of a nation's army, often described as an air corps. These units are generally separate from a nation's dedicated air force, and usually comprise helicopters and light support fixed-wing aircraft....

) in addition to or instead of a dedicated air force.

See also

  • Civil aviation
    Civil aviation
    Civil aviation is one of two major categories of flying, representing all non-military aviation, both private and commercial. Most of the countries in the world are members of the International Civil Aviation Organization and work together to establish common standards and recommended practices...

  • Military aviation occupations
    Military aviation occupations
    Military aviation occupations are types of work either shared with commercial aviation or unique to military air forces that provide skills to design, operate and particularly engage in aerial combat in during military operations...

  • Military aircraft insignia
    Military aircraft insignia
    Military aircraft insignia are insignia applied to military aircraft to identify the nation or branch of military service to which the aircraft belongs...

External links

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