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!
Nicknamed “The Pilot Maker,” the single-radial-engine, retractable gear taildragger was the advanced trainer that taught tens of thousands of Allied flight pilots to fly, and not just to fly, but to be pilots, as the plane requires great skill to fly well. Produced in huge numbers—more than 15,000—for the war effort, the relatively affordable T-6 has for decades been the most popular warbird on the airshow and fly-in circuit. Replaced in the late 40s by the North American T-28 Trojan advanced trainer, the T-6 remained arguably the better trainer, demanding more of its pilot-trainees while offering more learning opportunities than the easy-flying, tricycle gear T-28. In the ’50s and early ’60s, Texans were plentiful and cheap, with serviceable examples sometimes selling at auction for less than $1,000. Today, T-6s are prized possessions, and most are kept in pristine condition, belying the trainer’s roots as a tough, do-anything pilot trainer that helped teach the pilots of the Greatest Generation how to fly fighters.
Photo by Kishascott, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons