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Classes of Airplanes

Airplanes can be grouped into a handful of major classes, such as commercial, military, and general-aviation airplanes, all of which fall under different certification and operating rules.

Commercial Airplanes

Commercial aircrafts are those used for profit making, usually by carrying cargo or passengers for hire. They are strictly regulated in the United States, by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA); and in other countries, by other national aviation authorities.

Modern large commercial-airplane manufacturers such as Boeing; McDonnell Douglas; and Airbus Industries, a consortium of European manufacturers from Britain, Germany, France, and Spain offer a wide variety of aircraft with different capabilities. Today's jet airliners carry anywhere from 100 passengers to nearly 600 over short distances and over great lengths.

Since 1976 the British-French Concorde supersonic transport (SST) has carried passengers at twice the speed of sound. The Concorde flies for British Airways and Air France, flag carriers of the two nations that funded its development during the late 1960s and 1970s. The United States had an SST program, but it was ended because of budget and environmental concerns in 1971.

Military Airplanes

Usually smaller and faster than civilian transport planes, military fighter planes engage in combat-oriented activities during wartime and in rescue and scientific operations during peacetime.In the world of military aviation, airplanes are usually grouped into four categories: combat, cargo, training, and observation. Combat airplanes are generally either fighters or bombers, though some airplanes have both capabilities. Fighters are designed to engage in air combat with other airplanes, in either defensive or offensive situations. Since the 1950s many fighters have been capable of Mach 2+ flight (a Mach number represents the ratio of the speed of an airplane to the speed of sound as it travels through air). Some fighters have a ground-attack role as well, and are designed to carry both air-to-air weapons, such as missiles, and air-to-ground weapons, such as bombs. Fighters include such aircraft as the Panavia Tornado, the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle, the Lockheed-Martin F-16 Falcon, the MiG-29 Fulcrum, and the Su-27 Flanker.

Bombers are designed to carry large air-to-ground weapons loads and either penetrate or avoid enemy air defenses in order to deliver those weapons. Some well-known bombers include the Boeing B-52, the Rockwell B-1, and the Northrop Grumman B-2 stealth bomber. Bombers like the B-52 are designed to fly fast at low altitudes, following the terrain, in order to fly under enemy radar defenses, while others, such as the B-2, may use sophisticated radar-defeating technologies to fly virtually unobserved.

Today's military cargo airplanes are capable of carrying enormous tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery pieces, and even smaller aircraft. Cargo planes such as the giant Lockheed C-5B and McDonnell Douglas C-17 were designed expressly for such roles. Some cargo planes can serve a dual role as aerial gas stations, refueling different types of military airplanes while in flight. Such tankers include the Boeing KC-135 and McDonnell Douglas KC-10.

All military pilots go through rigorous training and education programs using military training airplanes to prepare them to fly the high-performance aircraft of the armed forces. They typically begin the flight training in relatively simple, propeller airplanes and move into basic jets before specializing in a career path involving fighters, bombers, or transports. Some military trainers include the T-34 Mentor, the T-37 and T-38, and the British Aerospace Hawk.

A final category of military airplane is the observation, or reconnaissance, aircraft. With the advent of the Lockheed U-2 spy plane in the 1950s, observation airplanes were developed solely for highly specialized missions. The ultimate spy plane is Lockheed's SR-71, a two-seat airplane that uses specialized engines and fuel to reach altitudes greater than 25,000 m (80,000 ft) and speeds well over Mach 3.

General-Aviation Aircraft

General-aviation aircraft are certified for and intended primarily for noncommercial or private operations.Light planes are one of the kind of general aviation aircraft.Light planes make up most of the world's privately owned aeroplanes. Most light planes are propeller driven, have a single engine, and are small enough to land and take off at small airports.

Pleasure aircraft range from simple single-seat, ultralight airplanes to sleek twin turboprops capable of carrying eight people. Business aircraft are used by individuals to travel from appointment to appointment. Most business airplanes require more reliable performance and more range and all-weather capability. Business airplanes are sometimes flown by corporate flight departments.

Another class of general-aviation airplanes are those used in agriculture. Large farms require efficient ways to spread fertilizer and insecticides over a large area. A very specialized type of airplane, Crop Dusters are rugged, highly maneuverable, and capable of hauling several hundred pounds of chemicals. They can be seen swooping low over farm fields, the gentle mists settling behind them onto the crops. Not intended for serious cross-country navigation, Crop Dusters lack sophisticated navigation aids and complex systems.

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