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!
What is there to the Mooney single-engine, four-seaters that set them apart from, say, the iconic Beech Bonanza or the Cessna 210 Centurion? Two words: economy and speed. Al Mooney’s compact cruiser gets the most out of its available power; the company has long been in the business of cutting drag to up the plane’s speed, the ultimate expression of which is the high-flying Acclaim, which tops 230 knots. Earlier models are perhaps the ultimate expression of Mooney’s vision, as they were able to barely eke out the magic 1 mph-per-horsepower goal. Over the years, Mooney has changed hands numerous times, highlighting the financial tightrope walk that small plane manufacturing is, while also underscoring just how desperately loyal to the brand Mooney owners are. And why shouldn’t they be? There is simply no other plane that offers the same combination of speed and economy as the M20, then or now.
Photo by Flickr user Rob Hodgkins