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!
Big is good—that is, when it does something useful, as in carrying lots of passengers (see Boeing 747), bombs (not listed, but Boeing B-52) or a prodigious load. When it comes to that last one, the one and only champion of the world is the Antonov AN-225 Mriya (Ukrainian for “dream”). By wingspan, tail height and length, it’s the biggest airplane in the world. It is inarguably the biggest load hauler. The humongous Antonov holds the record for the biggest load carried, 545,000 pounds, and its listed payload is nearly twice that of the Boeing 747-800 and nearly four times that of the Airbus A380. How many copies of the cargo plane are there? Just one. Built in 1988 to carry the Russian Buran space shuttle, it has since flown as a commercial cargo carrier, its dual claims to fame being the ability to carry very heavy and very large loads while having sufficient space to carry larger loads than other plane in the world. The AN-225 is powered by six turbofans outputting more than 50,000 pounds of thrust apiece. They clearly get the job done.
Photo by Larske, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons