Two of the most popular questions, at least for pilots and other students of aviation history, are: What are the top 10 planes of all time, and which one’s the greatest of them all?
Seems impossible, but we think we did it. Here’s how.
We started with a group of really great airplanes, which automatically turned into cross section of airplane types.
Then we narrowed things down even more by asking if there was a top dog among them. Usually, surprisingly, there was. That one made the list.
We think you’ll agree with at least two-thirds of our picks.
After our Top 10 Planes Of All Time, we present 25 others that a lot of you will argue belong on the main list. In many cases, you’d have a strong argument. Enjoy!
1. Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird
So, our choice as the greatest airplane of all time is the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. 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!
Margin of error: For top 10, zero. For top spot, 50%. Contenders for its mission: Lockheed U-2. Contenders for No. 1 spot: Piper Cub; Douglas DC-3; Boeing 747; Lockheed Martin F-22.