Saturday, September 1, 2007
10 Sexiest Airplanes
…in the eye of the beholder
There's no such thing as an unsexy Spitfire, but the final variations, the Mk 22 and Mk 24, carried the concept to such an extreme, that they bordered on the obscene. When Supermarine replaced the "puny" 1,650-cubic-inch, 1,500 to 1,700 hp Merlin V12 with a honkin' 2,240-cubic-inch, 2,375 hp Griffon and then began reshaping the airframe to accommodate it, they pegged the sexuality meter. The final bubble-top machines with long snouts, some that culminated in counter-rotating propellers, like on the Seafire 47, were postwar hotrods that appeared to be pushing the sound barrier while still chained to the ramp.
Once in a while, a machine appears that has so many bumps and snags in its airframe that it couldn't possibly be judged sexy, but in some mysterious way, it combines aeronautical elements and tugs at heartstrings worldwide. In the case of the Beech Staggerwing, that definitely applies to the postwar "G" models. To many, the G model has some curves—such as the way the windshield flows into the cowling—that are right up there with anything Michaelangelo ever sculpted. Moreover, old Mike's sculptures couldn't do 200 mph—there's more to sexuality than looks. Performance helps.
Can you say "speed incarnate"? The Jon Sharp–designed Nemesis NXT looks like the girl in class with the "nice but nasty" look who we were all afraid to ask for a date for fear she'd say "yes." This isn't an airplane—it's a piece of highly active (and vaguely scary) art. The NXT was bred for the racetrack but made available to those within the pilot population with the correct combination of testosterone, skill and money. With a blown TSIO-540 Lyc up front, you know it's fast, but the Nemesis Website gives only tantalizing hints of the speeds ("breathtakingly fast"). Official records at Reno, however, show it to be running around the pylons at well over 300 knots, and that's with a totally stock engine. With 90 gallons of fuel and a 300-plus-knot cruise speed, you and (as Nemisis puts it) "an adventurous friend" could do some serious traveling. Just don't plan on carrying much baggage.
Do you board a Lancair 320 or do you pull it on? Lancair has fitted the smallest, most efficient airframe possible around two people and made it among the best-looking jobs in aviation. Besides being fast (very fast) and easy to fly (given the performance), it's so slick that the wind has a difficult time finding anything on the airframe to trip it. This is another of those "almost too pretty to fly" airplanes.
Although the older Lear 24 and the initial Falcon 10 can't perform with some of their current peer group, both are a fine combination of lines that time will never erode. For example, the lines on a Falcon 10 flow from the radome back to the perfectly swept tail as if they were sculpted by the wind itself. Although overshadowed by grossly expensive bizjets, the Falcon 10 and 20 are still considered to be among the finest-handling bizjets ever built, which is why so many corporations still swear by them.
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