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!
A remarkably popular series of low-wing, fixed-gear, all-metal singles, the PA-28 lineup includes the Cherokee 140, the Warrior and the Archer, among others, along with the retractable-gear Arrow model. These all-time greats boast easy flying qualities to go with a level of utility that is comparable to that of the great Cessna singles that these Piper models competed against throughout the glory days of the 1960s and 1970s. It’s not clear if the designers of that first PA-28 were building in the ability to grow and expand, but it doesn’t seem likely. The fat, Hershey bar wing of the first Cherokees were all about sweet flying manners and not speed. Yet, as the Cessna 172 had been expanded in numerous, sometimes unexpected ways, so too did the PA-28 grow, as it was stretched and beefed up as Piper grew its product line by more than a half dozen models, including the retractable-gear Arrow, the six-seat Cherokee Six (later an RG model as well), the twin-engine Seneca and the Cessna 182 rival, the Piper Cherokee 235, which has been known by various names. In all, Piper has cranked out tens of thousands of PA-28s over the years. The company’s Piper 100i version, an economy flight-school optimized model, is one of the most popular training aircraft in the world today.
Photo by Kora27, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons