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!
Developed in a secret government program by the great Kelly Johnson of Lockheed Skunk Works fame, the SR-71 is the fastest air-breathing airplane ever. With a top speed of better than Mach 3, it is also the fastest piloted airplane ever of any kind that could take off on its own. The idea behind the SR-71 is incredibly ambitious: to build the world’s fastest, highest-flying operational aircraft ever, and all in the Cold War pursuit of keeping an eye on the Soviets. The SR-71 made its first flight in 1964, and over time Lockheed built 32 of them. Despite the improvement in Soviet missile defenses, the Blackbird kept on earning its keep, flying for more than 30 years before being retired for good in 1998, its jobs having been taken over by a combination of drones and satellites. But what an amazing plane it was!
Photo by USAF/Judson Brohmer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons