Mustangs, Mitchells, Catalinas, Liberators, Corsairs. Combat aircraft that were everyday companions to airmen in the World War II generation have become extraordinary treasures to many in the next: symbols of the courage and sacrifice that even younger generations have come to regard as part of the national identity. The United States produced more than 300,000 airplanes in World War II. Below are 25 of the most celebrated types, most of them still flying today.

Museums across the country have preserved and display these airplanes; some are exhibited in public spaces like Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, where a solitary F4F Wildcat honors Navy Medal of Honor winner Butch O’Hare.

This year, the 70th anniversary of Allied victory in World War II, warbirds are flying demonstrations in towns and cities across the country, including a flyover of the National Mall in Washington D.C. on May 8. If you’ve never heard a Merlin engine growl or seen a B-17 fly a stately pass across an airfield, this is the summer to do it.     

—The Editors

The 25: J-3 Cub/L-4 Grasshopper PT-17/N2S Stearman T-6 Texan AT-11 Kansan P-40 Warhawk B-25 Mitchell P-39 Airacobra P-63 Kingcobra PBY Catalina F4F Wildcat TBD Devastator SBD Dauntless P-38 Lightning B-24 Liberator P-51 Mustang B-17 Flying Fortress C-47/R4D Skytrain B-26 Marauder A-26 Invader F6F Hellcat TBM Avenger SB2C Helldiver P-47 Thunderbolt F4U/FG-1D Corsair B-29 Superfortress 

★ North American T-6 Texan ★ The Texan served in the U.S. Army and Navy (as the SNJ) as an advanced trainer that taught pilots how to fly fighters with powerful engines and shoot while they were doing it. In service with Commonwealth countries as the Harvard, the T-6 is a favorite among warbird fans and has its own racing class at the National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nevada.


The Basics: Four Trainers

★ Curtiss P-40 Warhawk ★ An all-metal, 300 mph fighter, the P-40 was the frontline U.S. fighter when the war began. It was made famous by Claire Chennault’s Flying Tigers, who, among other squadrons, painted shark’s teeth on its nose.


P-40 Warhawks and Flying Tigers

★ North American B-25 Mitchell ★  The twin-engine, medium bomber that Jimmy Doolittle flew on the first U.S. raid on Tokyo, the B-25 served in every theater of the war.


B-25s Fly a Raid on Tokyo

★ Bell P-39 Aerocobra ★ P-39s did their best work on the Eastern front, where Soviet pilots did battle with the Luftwaffe at medium altitude.  A decision not to equip the Allison engine in the P-39 with a two-stage supercharger left it gasping for air at high altitudes.


P-39s of the Cactus Air Force

★ SBD Dauntless ★ The Dauntless was a dive bomber whose pilots joked that the initials SBD stood not for “Scout Bomber—Douglas” but for “Slow But Deadly.” Its top speed was a mere 255 mph, and historians have noted that the pilot-gunner pairs who sat back-to-back in the SBD were the ones deserving the label “dauntless.” They destroyed more enemy ships in the war than any other pilots.


The Douglas Dauntless and Other Heroes of Midway

★ Lockheed P-38 Lightning ★ Though no Luftwaffe pilot was ever happy to see the P-38 (they called it the “forked-tail devil”), the twin-engine, twin-boom fighter made its reputation in the Pacific, where pilots outfought Mitsubishi A6M Zeros. With speeds in excess of 400 mph, a range of 1,300 miles, and four M2 Browning .50s in its nose, the Lightning was a threat in any theater.


The Fighter That Shot Down Yamamoto

★ Consolidated B-24 Liberator ★ The big, four-engine B-24 never shared the glory of Boeing’s beautiful B-17, but it worked harder. It could carry a heavier load—8,000 pounds of bombs—over a longer distance—2,850 miles. It is also the most produced U.S. aircraft of the war: 18,000 were built.


Mission to Ploesti: B-24 Liberators

★ North American P-51 Mustang ★ Most people who know warbirds consider the P-51 (foreground, flying with a B-17 during a 2009 demonstration) the best fighter of World War II. It was conceived in April 1940, when the Royal Air Force asked North American Aviation to build more Curtiss P-40s. North American’s President Dutch Kindelberger countered with an offer to deliver a wholly new design, and the first Mustang flew six months later. In the following year, the addition of a Merlin 61 engine (upgraded in later models) gave the XP-51B the combination of range and speed that would come to secure the P-51’s legend. Escorting bombers to Berlin and whupping the German fighters that attacked them, the P-51 was significant in weakening the German air force.


All the Way to Berlin with Mustangs

★ Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress ★ The Boeing B-17 flew with nine or ten crewmen, depending on the year of the war, and each had a one in four chance of completing his 25 required missions. The strategic bombers flew some of the most hazardous missions of the war, hitting heavily defended German oil refineries, munitions plants, and transportation hubs. The most succinct compliment was paid to the four-engine Boeing by General Carl Spaatz, who, as the commander of U.S. Strategic Forces in Europe in 1944, knew what he was talking about. “Without the B-17,” he said, “we might have lost the war.”


B-17s and a Big Week of Bombing

★ Douglas C-47 Skytrain ★ Derived from the DC-3 airliner, the C-47 served with all the Allied air forces fighting the Axis powers during the Second World War, and it was license-produced in the Soviet Union. Known as the Dakota in British and Commonwealth service, C-47s flew in every combat theater. They carried paratroops, freight, and towed transport gliders. They also flew on search-and-rescue missions, medical evacuation flights, and on special operations inserting and recovering covert agents and sabotage teams, and supporting the activities of resistance fighters operating behind enemy lines.


C-47s on D-Day

★ Martin B-26 Marauder ★ The B-26 was a medium bomber that could deliver 4,000 pounds of bombs on a target 1,000 miles from its home base. Built by the Glenn L. Martin Company near Baltimore, Maryland, the bomber got the nickname “Martin Murderer


B-26 Marauders, A-26 Invaders

★ Grumman TBF Avenger ★ The Grumman TBF, or TBM if one of the 7,546 built by General Motors’ Eastern Division, was a three-seat sub stalker and torpedo bomber that scored a big victory in the Battle of Guadalcanal by sinking the 37,000-ton Japanese battleship <i>Hiei</i>. More Avengers were lost than ships destroyed in the Pacific, however, including one TBM that suffered engine failure after catapulting off the light carrier San Jacinto. The pilot, the 20 year-old George H.W. Bush, bailed out.


Hellcats, Helldivers, and Avengers

★ Republic P-47 Thunderbolt ★ The heaviest single-engine aircraft of the war, the P-47 was a tail-sitter with wide-stance landing gear and flat-face radial engine giving it the look of an aggressive bull-dog. Its 2,000-hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800 18-cylinder radial engine, boosted by a General Electric turbosupercharger, endowed it with 400+ mph performance up to 40,000 feet. But it frequently flew low to annihilate armored vehicles, trains, gun emplacements, and anything unlucky enough to be under its flight path.


P-47s Did It All

★ Vought FG-1D Corsair ★ Another fighter powered by the Pratt & Whitney R-2800, the Corsair was intended for the Navy, but the initial designs provided pilot visibility too poor for carrier landings. Early production runs were given to the Marines, therefore, who turned them into legend. When the cockpit hood was redesigned, the Navy needed so many Corsairs that Vought opened production lines with Brewster and Goodyear—the former producing the FG-1 series, which flew in the May 2014 flyover. Above is an F4U-5N.


Corsairs, the Angels of Iwo Jima

★ Boeing B-29 Superfortress ★ It was the ultimate U.S. weapon, a high-altitude strategic bomber with the speed of a fighter, a 3,200-mile range, and the capacity to carry 20,000 pounds of explosives. The Boeing B-29 ended World War II. On August 6, 1945, the B-29 Enola Gay dropped a uranium fission bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. A few days later, a B-29 named Bockscar destroyed Nagasaki with a plutonium bomb. The Japanese surrendered on September 2, and the Atomic Age had begun.


B-29s Become the Ultimate Weapons