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 Cirrus Aircraft SR22 isn’t the most numerous single-engine personally flown aircraft—several others, including Cessna’s remarkable 172, have numbers that dwarf the 7,000-plus SR22s that Cirrus has turned out since the plane’s introduction in 2001. A four-seater—new ones have room for a fifth occupant to squeeze into the back row—the SR22 is the ultimate expression of the personally flown piston single. Fast, supremely comfortable, sophisticated to beat the band, and oh-so-pretty on the ramp, the SR22 tapped into a market for such a plane. It is revered for its approach, fixed landing gear for a high-performance single, big seating area, advanced technology and, oh yeah, a whole-airplane recovery parachute system, which Cirrus dubbed CAPS (for Cirrus Airframe Parachute System), that will lower the entire plane to the ground, passengers and all, safely in one piece. While the original SR22 was positioned for a wide audience, the company soon found that it costs a lot to build airplanes and that every option it offered was being gobbled up. The resultant steady price rise has seen the SR22 go from less than $300,000 to nearly a million dollars over its almost 20-year history, which hasn’t affected its popularity. It remains the best-selling single-engine aircraft of the last 20 years and one of the best-selling ever.
Photo courtesy of Cirrus Aircraft