It’s no secret that we pilots love airplanes, though the reasons why we do are, well, not so much mysterious as wide ranging and, at times, hard to pin down precisely. We love airplanes for what they are, where they can take us, and for reasons that are more related to aesthetics than utility. We feel that airplanes, at least some of them, are beautiful to behold. Part of that is the emotional mystery behind airplanes. They are, after all, doing something that, until 150 years ago, was impossible. So we have a reverence for aircraft that at its root is steeped in wonder.
Not everyone believes that beauty is a mystery. For the past couple of decades, mathematicians have been attempting to quantify what we find beautiful, notably in human faces, by probing the relationship of parts and their arrangement to the whole and trying to arrive at some kind of equation of beauty. Other scientists who are interested in the question of what we find beautiful are teaching computers to learn to replicate the judgments we make in finding things beautiful, so far mostly in photos of nature and people’s faces and not airplanes. At least not yet.
In formulating this list of beautiful general aviation airplanes, we’ve done none of that. Instead, we’ve relied upon the judgment of hundreds of thousands of other pilots, some still flying and some gone west, by naming airplanes to this short list that pilots for decades have been remarking upon in general as beautiful examples of flying machines. These are planes that pilots, when they see one on the ramp or at an airshow, will often stop to gaze at, sometimes for a long while.
In the process, we’ve surely picked a few that hardly anyone would disagree with. You’ll see. At the same time, it’s almost certain that we’ve picked a couple that you might disagree with, perhaps strongly.
To give our audience a voice in the process, we’ve decided to pick only nine of the most beautiful GA planes while giving you the chance to select the tenth. Later this year, we’ll take a poll based on your suggestions and reveal that choice. So, as you read, think about it. What beautiful GA plane did we leave off the list? Let us know simply by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And as you’ll notice, too, we’ve only selected conventionally certificated GA planes, so you won’t see any P-51s, Constellations or Lancairs here, even if they are sometimes under the GA umbrella. We’ve also stuck to piston-powered planes, so bear that in mind, as well. And we can save all of those other conversations for a later date. Also, so as to make this a living, breathing list of the most beautiful GA planes, we decided to limit the field to airplanes built and produced within the lifespan of people who were alive to remember the era of World War II. Some of those people served in the Armed Forces and many of them later came home to become the pilots who would fuel the rise of general aviation in the United States into the segment that created some of the most beautiful machines ever made.
So, without further ado, we present nine of the 10 most beautiful airplanes in GA history.