Today's most sophisticated aircraft are the things of science fiction.


In a few years, drones that can fit in the palm of a person's hand and 117-foot-wingspan planes that can launch satellites will both be a reality.

At the same time, drone and advanced-fighter technologies will spread beyond the US and Europe, and countries including China, Russia, and Iran may have highly advanced aerial capabilities.

Here's our look at the most game-changing aircraft of the past few years — and the next few to come.

F-35 Lightning II

Photo: IRNA

Iran has been under sanctions and a Western arms embargo for much of the past 30 years, something that has denied Tehran the chance to obtain high-quality European or American arms. That's about to change, with the signing of a nuclear agreement that will lift all international arms import limitations within the next decade.

But the years of sanctions have forced Iran to build its own domestic capabilities. In 2013 Iran debuted an armed drone eerily similar to the US' Reaper, called the Fotros. It's unclear whether the Fotros is battle-ready, but Iran and Hezbollah, Tehran's proxy militia in Lebanon — along with the Sudanese military — already fly Iran's Ababil-3 surveillance drone.

Iran's drones aren't game changers because of their high quality but because of what they represent: Even countries chafing under international pressure can develop their own drone technology with enough patience and technological expertise. The Fotros and Ababil-3 suggest that an era of widespread drone proliferation is just around the corner.

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