Our list from a few years ago of the most beautiful light planes of all time focused on, well, beauty, and we highlighted planes that were sleek and graceful. If there were an airplane equivalent to the golden ratio, said to define human beauty, then those planes were all about that thing.
The planes on this list, not so much. Indeed, if there’s any guiding rule in their design, it’s impossible to discern, and if anyone does figure it out, we sincerely hope they keep the secret to themselves.
Almost all of these aircraft were designed the way they were for purely practical reasons. Which makes sense. Otherwise, why would anyone intentionally adopt the aesthetics represented here? After all, the 747, which is not on this list, has the hump for its second seating area. The Chinook has its profile that only a mother could love, so it could have two giant main rotors and a big place to put troops and weapons. Try doing either of those two things and still come out with a runway-worthy model of beauty. Can it be done? Can you combine beauty and purpose-built design? Clearly, you can. Just look at the multitudinous business jets that look the way they do because of the things, like wing sweep and area rule fuselage design, that makes them the heavenly chariots their manufacturers advertise them as.
In these instances, the result of the quest for a plane that would do something outside the box was the creation of an odd-shaped box all its own. You won’t find any one-off World War I tri-plane light bombers here, either. The defining factor, apart from their ungainly appearance, is that most of these planes were at least fairly successful and produced in good numbers. If nothing else, that’s proof that beauty sometimes takes a backseat to more important things, like revenue and utility.
Here are the seven ugliest light planes.
The Piper Tri-Pacer is the answer to the question, asked by Piper back in the day, “How can we build a nosewheel four-seater without designing a whole new plane?” Easy. Put a nose wheel on a Pacer. The result is an aircraft that files okay, carries four svelte friends, and doesn’t cost a lot. But it’s not fast, and, well, look at it. It’s a profile that only a mother could love. But it is much beloved by its owners, which is true for just about every plane on this list. And the Tri-Pacer was very popular. During its 14-year production run, Piper turned out nearly 10,000 of them.
On the other hand
For an airplane that’s supposedly unattractive, the Tri-Pacer, sometimes derided as the “Flying Milk Stool,” is the subject of some of the most beautiful air-to-air photographs of the era. In my view, it’s one of the most underappreciated beauties out there.
Photo by Mike Burdett via Wikipedia Commons