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!
The Bonanza is one of a few truly revolutionary light personal transportation planes, and it is, in our view, the first truly modern personal plane, period. When it was introduced in 1947, just two years after the war, it was in a class of one. It was the most practical, fast, affordable and easy-flying four-seater ever, and Beechcraft’s competitors hurried to keep from being left completely behind. Eventually, Cessna would introduce a true competitor, in the form of the Model 210 Centurion, but with its big head start and a strong edge in terms of aesthetics, the Bonanza was a decade or more ahead of the competition. And Beech engineers continued to find ways to make the Bonanza better, faster and stronger, eventually coming up with a conventional-tail hangar-mate, the Model 33 Debonair and a straight tailed stretch version, the B-36, which continues in production today.
Photo by Bidgee, CC BY-SA 3.0 AU, via Wikimedia Commons