The Greatest Ever Bomber Aircraft
From the Swordfish to the Vulcan to the immense B-52
We'll get up close and personal with the latest high-tech terminator and go flying in a World War II classic. Also on our list: dive bombers, torpedo bombers and jet attack bombers and you'll learn what it's like to drop the biggest bomb of all. Military expert and writer Tom Clancy will offer his opinion on what makes the best.
No 10. Fairey Swordfish.
Ugly, completely obsolete, but surprisingly effective. Ron Dick, a retired RAF pilot says: "The swordfish is an anomoly, it had no right to be in World War II at all. Everything about it screams 1918". Admirals called it the swordfish but the crews called it the string-bag because of the multiple bracing wires that held the wings together.
The swordfish first made history in 1940 when it hit the Italian fleet in Taranto harbour. Under cover of darkness it flew right into the harbour causing immense damage to the shipping at anchor. It was a text-book example of what the Swordfish was there to do.
Junkers JU-87 Stuka
No. 9. Junkers JU-87 Stuka
The Stuka displayed teutonic efficiency both in delivering bombs and in scaring the life out the people it was attacking. The bent-winged Stuka was the first aircraft designed specifically for dive-bombing, crewed by a pilot and tail gunner, it was an evil-looking plane, like an angry eagle diving.
From an operational standpoint it was a very effective and precise dive-bomber, essentially aiming at the target and releasing the bomb at the optimum point. It was also the first bomber to use a terrifying form of psychological warfare. It was fitted with a siren that made it scream like a banshee as it dived.
No. 8. Caproni C-36
It wasn't beautiful, it certainly wasn't graceful, but it was functional. It looks crude and so unusual but really it was advanced technology for the time. It's 1915, 12 years after the Wright brothers first flight, and the Caproni is flying from Italy, over the Alps and hitting Austrian targets. With a 23 metre wingspan it could carry 770Kgs of bombs on a 640Km return trip.
Despite it's crude appearance, it was actually a very well designed aeroplane and the Italian Air Force kept it in servive until 1929.
No. 7. Panavia Tornado
Combining the style of an Italian sports car, the no-nonsense approach of German engineering and the derring-do approach of the British. A 1979 British, Italian and German co-production, the Panavia Tornado low-level, fast attack bomber
Designed as a multi-role aircraft, the Tornado is a two-seat twin-engined fighter interceptor and a bomber all rolled into one package. Armed with 27mm cannons, the Tornado can also carry some 8000Kgs of bombs.
No. 6. Avro Vulcan
The quintessentially British nuclear bomber and star of the James Bond film "Thunderball", the Avro Vulcan. The delta-winged Vulcan grew out of the RAF's need for a nuclear attack bomber that could go the distance - Moscow and back. The Vulcan went operational in 1960 and could carry 10,000Kgs of nuclear or conventional bombs and would operate at 60,000 feet.
It is powered by four Olympus jet engines giving a total of 36,00Kgs of thrust and a maximum speed of 0.95 mach. It also had the reputation of the agile flying characteristics of a fighter, not a bomber.
Tupelov TU-95 Bear
No. 5. Tupelov TU-95 Bear
The Russian bomber that never fails to impress just with it's sheer size. Unquestionably, one of the huge icons of the cold war. Swept wing with turbo-props made it very fast, with a very long range and capable of very high altitudes.
Built by the Tupelov Design Bureau the Bear was the ultimate symbol of Soviet power. It's massive 51 metre swept wings are impressive but it's coolest feature is 4 turbo-prop engines turning 8 contra-rotating propellors which gave this bomber incredible fuel-efficiency and range. It was capable of lifting 46,000lbs of weapons. A significant weakness was a harmonic frequency emitted by the contra-rotating props which allowed western forces to track the Bear using sonar.
B-2 Spirit Bomber
No. 4. B-2 Spirit Bomber
The B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber is a remarkable example of what the Americans can do. It's technologically brilliant and mind-bogglingly expensive. It can go all the way round the World and drop bombs and it can do this quickly and unnoticed.
The Stealth bomber first saw combat in 1999 when it hit Serbian targets during the Kosovo war and continues to see action in the Gulf and Afghanistan, setting records in the process. Many aspects of this, freakish looking, stealth bomber are still top secret. It's top speed is, reportedly, high sub-sonic at 11,000 metres. It can carry 23,000Kgs of bombs.
No. 3. Avro Lancaster
If the British public remember two planes from the War it's the Spitfire and the Lancaster. Entering combat in 1942 the 4-engined Lancaster was King of the night-time raids into Germany. It had a crew of seven and could carry a heavier load than any other bomber in the European theatre. No other aircraft in World War II lifted a single bomg weighing 22,000lbs but the Lancaster did.
The Lancaster is perhaps most famous for it's audacious dam-busting raids into Germany. The total casualty rate for RAF bomber command was over 50% making the chances of surviving a tour of 30 missions, unlikely.
No. 2. Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress
The media dubbed the B-17 as the Flying Fortress because of it's thirteen 50 calibre machine guns. Bud Porter, an ex B-17 ball turret gunner, recalls: "I loved this airplane, because you could do an awful lot of damage to a B-17 and it would still take you back home". With a crew of 10 the B-17 served in every World War II combat zone. It is best known for daylight strategic bombing of German industrial targets. It's maximum load was 8,000Kgs of iron or dumb bombs.
Boeing B-52 Strato Fortress
No. 1. Boeing B-52 Strato Fortress
The undisputed aerial heavyweight champion of the world, the B-52 Strato Fortress. First designed to take nuclear armageddon on a one-way trip to the Soviet Union this bomber continues to see service in the Gulf and Afghanistan. Tom Clancy points out that we now have grandchildren of the first flight crews flying these airplanes. Apparently known, by the air crew, as the BUFF - Big Ugly Fat Fella as it is not the prettiest of aircraft.
It first flew in 1952 and is still flying, in regular active service, today.
B-52! The Greatest Ever Bomber!
CREDITS: All of the above information was taken from the UK's Channel Five "Greatest Ever" documentary series.