With the tens of thousands of airplane models that have been built and flown since the days of the Brothers Wright, how is it even possible to come up with a list of the greatest planes of them all?
It’s a fair question, and it’s one we’ve spent a great deal of time discussing before we even embarked upon the journey. At first glance, the exercise seems a bit silly. After all, planes come in so many different shapes and sizes, with an equal number of mission types to match. How could you possibly choose just one?
But the more we thought about it, the more sense it made to us. To start with, we needed to acknowledge that there are a lot of great airplanes. There are also a lot of historically significant airplanes, which is a more exclusive club, we decided. But finally, there is a level of greatness that you can indeed measure using a few distinct and, in most cases, at least somewhat quantifiable categories, such as how many were built or what its top speed is or how long it was in service.
But looking at the different kinds of mission types, i.e., training, personal transportation, commercial transportation, fighters, bombers, reconnaissance and more, we decided to narrow things down even more by asking ourselves if there were a top dog among those planes.
Surprisingly, the answer to that question was often an unequivocal, “Yes!” That surprised us to no end, but the more we reflected upon it, the more we knew it was true.
So without further ado, we proudly present our list of the Top 25 Planes of All Time. Enjoy!
Say what you will about it: It costs a boatload of dough, $350 million a pop, all up. It was late. It was way over budget, and some say in today’s global political world, we don’t even need it. But from a pure design perspective, the F-22 is the all-around most capable airplane ever, and by a good margin. The F-22 is the only full-up fifth-generation air-superiority fighter in the world that’s in full production and that’s fielded. And besides, it’s better than the others, anyway. The F-22 is capable of a supercruise (that is, sustained faster than the speed-of -sound flight without afterburner) of Mach 1.85; it’s incredibly maneuverable—the first time we saw a slow flight demonstration, we were absolutely spellbound, as this plane is capable doing things that look aerodynamically impossible; it features stealth technology; and, with a range of 1,600 nm without long-range tanks, it can go a long ways between refuelings.
Photo by Senior Airman Laura Turner, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.