NORTH CHARLESTON — Drive down the aptly named Aviation Avenue and other roads near Charleston Air Force Base and you'll no doubt see some familiar military aircraft.
But all across the Lowcountry, there are dozens of plane-watching opportunities. And identifying some of the flying craft can be a little tough sometimes. With a little practice, the characteristics of most will become easier to spot.
For Armed Forces Day, May 15, here's a curated list of 10 military jets, prop planes and helicopters and their general characteristics to identify as you scan the skies:
C-17A Globemaster III
This large transport plane is stationed at the base as part of the Air Force's transport mission. It delivers troops and cargo to bases around the world. It has a payload of 170,900 pounds.
The C-17 is distinctive and easily identifiable. It has thousands of arrivals and departures per year at Joint Base Charleston.
Measurements: 174 feet long with a wingspan of 169.8 feet
Speed: 518 mph
Ceiling: 45,000 feet
Crew: Three (two pilots and loadmaster)
Fact: The first production model of the C-17 was delivered to CAFB on June 14, 1993.
This multipurpose patrol plane is used by the Navy primarily for anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare. It performs intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions around the world and participates in search and rescues.
Measurements: 129.6 feet long with a wingspan of 123.6 feet
Speed: 564 mph
Ceiling: 41,000 feet
Armament: Missiles, torpedoes and sonobuoys
Fact: It's a military version of the Boeing 737.
C-130J Super Hercules
A tactical transport plane capable of a wide variety of missions, including aerial refueling, special operations, airlift support, aerial spray, firefighting, disaster relief and weather reconnaissance. Lockheed Martin's turboprop can carry up to 42,000 pounds and take off and land on short, unprepared strips.
Measurements: 97.8 feet long with a wingspan of 132.6 feet
Speed: 417 mph
Ceiling: 28,000 feet
Armament: Cannons, missiles and bombs (on Ghostrider gunship)
Crew: Three (two pilots and loadmaster) or more, depending on mission
Fact: This is the plane of choice for the Air Force Reserve's Hurricane Hunters.
AV-8B Harrier II
Although this short takeoff/vertical landing jet has been out of production since 2003, some Marine squadrons are still flying them, including those at Cherry Point, N.C. The planes will be by replaced by F-35s.
Measurements: 46.3 feet long with a wingspan of 30.3 feet
Speed: 647 mph
Ceiling: 38,000 feet
Armament: Cannons, rockets, missiles and bombs
Fact: It takes up to eight Marines to remove or install the Harrier's Rolls-Royce Pegasus turbofan engine.
F-35 Lightning II
The F-35 is the newest multirole stealth fighter being deployed by the Air Force, Navy and Marines. It's designed to replace aging fleets of F-16s and several other planes, but the program has suffered several delays.
Measurements: 51.4 feet long with a wingspan of 35 feet
Speed: 1,200+ mph (Mach 1.6)
Ceiling: 50,000+ feet
Armament: Wide variety of weapons can be carried internally in stealth mode; ordnance payload is more than 18,000 pounds
Fact: Marine pilots are being trained in Beaufort in the F-35B, the short takeoff/vertical landing version of the jet.
F-16 Fighting Falcon
A multirole fighter aircraft that has succeeded in air-to-air and air-to-surface combat. Its life has been extended due to delays in the F-35. International demand remains high for the versatile jet. The plane is flown by the S.C. Air National Guard.
Measurements: 49.4 feet long with a wingspan of 32.7 feet
Speed: 1,500+ mph (Mach 2+)
Ceiling: 50,000+ feet
Armament: Cannons, missiles and conventional munitions
Crew: One or two
Fact: Lockheed Martin moved the F-16 production line to Greenville. The facility also has a contract to overhaul the fighters for the Air Force.
F/A-18 Hornet/Super Hornet
The Navy and Marine Corps deploy this all-weather fighter and attack aircraft. Several Hornet squadrons operate out of Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. Both services can launch the jets from aircraft carriers, but the Marines are moving solely to the F-35 for carrier duty.
Measurements: Hornet: 56 feet long with a wingspan of 40.4 feet; Super Hornet: 60.3 feet long with a wingspan of 44.9 feet
Speed: 1,300+ mph (Mach 1.7+ Hornet and Mach 1.8+ Super Hornet)
Ceiling: 50,000+ feet
Armament: Cannons, rockets, missiles, mines and bombs
Crew: One or two
Fact: The Blue Angels, the Navy's flight demonstration squadron, now fly the Super Hornet after 34 years in the Hornet.
A patrol and search-and-rescue helicopter operated from Coast Guard bases and cutters. While the choppers seen in our area are based in Savannah, one is on duty at the Sector Charleston air facility.
Measurements: 44.4 feet long with a rotor diameter of 39.2 feet
Speed: 201 mph
Ceiling: 18,000 feet
Armament: Machine guns, rifles
Crew: Four (two pilot, two crew)
Fact: Dolphins are used extensively in lifesaving operations after hurricanes.
UH-60 Black Hawk
This helicopter can transport an entire 11-person, fully equipped infantry squad in most weather conditions. The S.C. Army National Guard flies the chopper.
Measurements: 64.8 feet long with a rotor diameter of 53.7 feet
Speed: 183 mph
Ceiling: 19,000 feet
Armament: Machine guns, missiles and rockets
Crew: Four (two pilots, two crew)
Fact: Critical components are armored, and the airframe is designed to crush progressively to protect occupants.
E-3 Sentry (AWACS)
The Airborne Warning and Control System jet is easily identified because it has a large radar housed in a rotating, saucer-shaped dome 11 feet above the fuselage. The jet provides surveillance, target tracking and early warning of enemy actions.
Measurements: 152.9 feet long with a wingspan of 145.8 feet; rotodome: 30 feet in diameter, 6 feet thick
Speed: 360 mph
Ceiling: 29,000+ feet
Crew: Flight crew of four plus mission crew of 13-19 specialists
Fact: The E-3 can fly a mission profile about eight hours without refueling.
Sources: Joint Base Charleston, Department of Defense, U.S. Coast Guard, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Airbus Helicopters.