Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, contests and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Top 25 Planes Of All Time

Across all segments of aviation, these 25 airplanes have stood above the rest and have weathered the test of time.

Atlantis on a shuttle carrier aircraft - Top 25 Planes Of All Times

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! 

Piper J-3 Cub

Piper J-3 Cub

Before you get started, this is not a nostalgia pick. The Piper Cub is a much-beloved airplane, one that many of us associate with a bucolic image of aviation in simpler times. And it is that. But it’s also one of the most revolutionary airplanes in history and one of the most important. When C.G. Taylor designed the first Cub in the late 1920s, he was trying to do what many others were attempting at the same time: to build an affordable, easy-to-fly personal aircraft that would be useful for a wide variety of trips. Other attempts to design such a plane failed. Some, like Aeronca’s C-3, nicknamed the “flying bathtub,” were ungainly, underpowered and uncomfortable. With his “Cub,” Taylor hit upon a magic recipe that resonated with customers. But it was the Depression, so the Cub might never have become the icon it is without the intervention a few years into its life of William T. Piper, who bought the company and updated the plane to that imperfect thing of beauty we know as the Piper J-3 Cub. The Cub has issues: The pilot in command, both when solo or with two aboard, sits in the rear of the two tandem seats, and getting into and back out of the thing was and is a young person’s exercise. The Cub’s flying manners are more than a little kite-like, and visibility while taxiing is limited. But somehow these liabilities were nothing compared to the overall joy of the J-3 because once you’re in a Cub, and especially once you’re flying it, it’s the epitome of the joy and beauty of bare-bones flying. That’s why, for 85 years now, the icon of personal flying is as beloved as ever. But that’s not all. As a plane that an ordinary person could buy, learn to fly and keep in good shape on a shoestring, the Cub gave rise to what we now know as personal aviation. It wasn’t long before the J-3 was supplanted by improved Pipers and a host of competitors, some of which got faster and more sophisticated, and the whole thing evolved into a segment of aviation that is for all the people, one that, in our view, is one of the crown jewels of America. And all of that can be traced back directly to the Piper Cub.

Photo via Shutterstock

Do you want more great airplane lists? Take a look at “10 Cheapest Planes In The Sky,” “10 (More) Cheapest Planes In The Sky,” and “8 Great Used Planes.”


Save Your Favorites

Save This Article