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!
This American fighter helped turn the tide of World War II by escorting Allied bombers deep into German territory, where it proved a formidable foe for Luftwaffe fighters. It’s also one of the most beautiful planes ever. And it was far from just range that made the P-51 a special plane. It was among the fastest, most maneuverable and well-armed fighter planes up to that point in aviation history, a combination that made it remarkably capable while also making every Allied plane it flew beside safer and, hence, more capable, as well. There are other very important fighter planes from World War II, including the Messerschmitt Me-209, the Supermarine Spitfire, the Goodyear/Vought-Chance Corsair, the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero and the Soviet IL-2 Sturmavik. But the Mustang seems the perfect combination of speed, agility, grace and power, and its impact on the overall war effort is arguably unmatched.
Photo by Jim Koepnick