Ahead of the publication of our annual World Air Forces directory, our Top 10 feature looks at some of the rarest aircraft still to be found in active military service around the globe. The selection draws on just some of the data contained within our global fleet listing, which details the almost 52,000 combat, special mission, tanker and transport aircraft, combat helicopters and training types currently in use across 160 nations. To make it more of a challenge, we have intentionally excluded nationally developed aircraft or type variants (for example the Denel Rooivalk attack helicopter) which have not been exported for use in other countries.
1. Grumman F-14
Shahram Sharifi/Wikimedia Commons
Despite its considerable differences with the USA, Tehran continues to support an aged fleet of 24 Grumman F-14A fighters, which were delivered to the Iranian air force prior to the Islamic revolution of 1979. The Tomcats are joined in active use by 42 US-sourced McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantoms and 25 Northrop F-5Es, including several of the latter which have been adapted to a twin-tailed configuration named Saegheh.
2. North American Rockwell OV-10
Fans of the North American Rockwell OV-10 will be pleased to see the distinctive Bronco flying on for a trio of operators. Optimised for the counter-insurgency role, the twin-engined type is still employed by the air forces of Colombia, the Philippines and Venezuela (pictured), which fly seven, eight and five examples, respectively. While excluded from our data edit for Flight International's 9-15 December issue, two more have recently been flown in the modernised OV-10G+ standard by the US Special Operations Command, and three are owned by NASA.
3. Boeing 727
Keen-eyed readers will spot an unusual order listing in our World Air Forces directory for 2015, with the Afghan air force due to acquire three Boeing 727s for transport applications. Kabul will join only four other military operators in flying the classic trijet. Combined, the air forces of Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador and Mexico today fly a combined 14 of the type. Our pictured example – Colombian air force aircraft FAC1204 – is a -200-model freighter.
4. Shorts SC.7 Skyvan
Also previously listed in our “Quirky Dozen” feature, the Shorts SC.7 Skyvan is one of the rarest types in military use, with only two operators still flying it. The Guyana Defence Force operates one in the air transport role, while the Royal Air Force of Oman uses three in a maritime patrol variant dubbed the “Seavan”. Muscat will be replacing these assets with a trio of C295s, on order from Airbus Defence & Space.
5. North American T-2 Buckeye
Georgios Pazios/Wikimedia Commons
First flown in January 1958, the North American T-2 Buckeye trainer was developed for the US Navy, which operated the type until 2008. Today, the design is flown solely by the Greek air force, which has an active fleet of 40 C- and E-model variants which were delivered to the service by 1977.
6. Scottish Aviation Bulldog
A former stalwart of air force training arms in nations including the UK and Sweden, the Scottish Aviation Bulldog is still hanging on in military use, with a combined eight of the twin-seat type active in Kenya (five) and Lebanon (three). Flightglobal’s MiliCAS database also records the Armed Forces of Malta as having four stored examples. Our image is of a privately owned example.
7. Dornier 28
The splendidly retro-looking Dornier 28 Skyservant – pictured here is privately owned example D-IRES – is used in the utility role by the air forces of Angola and Zambia, with one and five respectively. Nigeria also flies 11 of the later Dornier 128 model.
8. Aermacchi MB-326/Atlas Impala
A twin entry in our Top 10 covers the Italian-produced Aermacchi MB-326 and its South African-developed derivative, the Atlas Impala. The models are both used only by single operators; respectively the Togolese air force, with six EMB-326 trainers, and Cameroon, with five combat-capable Impalas, acquired following their retirement by the South African air force. Sourced from Flight International’s online archive from a 2004 flight test report, our image shows a formation of Impalas acquired by the US National Test Pilot School.
9. Hawker Hunter
Our delve into the Rex Features image archive turned up this charming shot of a Royal Air Force Hawker Hunter, receiving a tow at a Jordanian air base in 1958. While neither of the nations still use the type, it remains in our MiliCAS listing as being in the inventory of the Lebanese air force, which has three single-seat examples and one trainer.
10. Atlas Cheetah
The Cheetah is a third-generation fighter in more than one way, with its development path having run from the Dassault Mirage III to the Israel Aircraft Industries Kfir and then on to its evolution by South African firm Atlas. Today, Ecuador has the unique distinction of being the only nation to operate both the Cheetah – pictured here in its single-seat C variant – and Kfir, with a combined fleet of 22. Some 95 Mirage IIIs remain in service with the air forces of Argentina and Pakistan, according to our directory.