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!
The first jumbo jet has gone through a half-dozen versions in its 50-year history. Boeing has turned out more than 1,500 of the enormous jets, which are one of the largest aircraft ever built and one of the most successful aircraft, period. The original 747 was a revelation—huge, fast, sophisticated and democratizing—and it has only continued to get better and better over its half-century-plus lifespan. The 747 remains in production, though Boeing is focusing on building freighter versions of it now, as twin-engine aircraft such as the Boeing 777 with huge turbofan engines rule the skies. Many think of the 747 as a lumbering giant—it’s anything but. With a cruise speed north of Mach .85, it’s one of the fastest commercial transport jets. The latest 747, the 747-8, typically carries 467 passengers.
Photo by RAFAEL LUIZ CANOSSA, cC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.