Sometimes we just like to talk about cool airplanes. When these conversations come up, there are some airplanes everyone should just know about.
The most famous airplanes are:
- The Wright Flyer
- Bleriot XI
- Boeing 747
- BAC-Aerospatiale Concorde
- Bell X-1
- Supermarine Spitfire
- Airbus Beluga XL
- Airbus A380
- The Spirit of St Louis
- Lockheed Vega
- Lockheed Electra
- Gulfstream IV
- VSS Unity
- Cessna 172
- Memphis Belle (Boeing B-29 Superfortress)
- North American P-51 Mustang
To help make this happen, here is the definitive list of the most famous airplanes of all time. Keep in mind, this is for airplanes only and not aircraft. That means, I’m not including a single rotorcraft or space shuttle. That being said, I did include a spacecraft because it’s on the fence of being an airplane.
How Am I Defining “Famous”?
Pilots and aviation nerds all love the past more than anything. eLike, advancement is cool, and if you’re the one flying you want it to be the newest airplane, but the real cool kids like the classics.
Then again, all of the most famous planes are famous because they did something amazing. They likely were the top-of-the-line technology at the time.
Aviators, and I use that word to mean anyone that is involved in aviation including as a hobby, just love the classic stuff the most. There’s a reason the Piper Cub is one of the most popular aircraft of all time, even today.
Of course, there are benefits to both. When it comes down to it, the future doesn’t exist without the past. Take sports records as an example. There are insane limits until someone breaks a record. Then it gets to a point where the most amazing feat is now the standard.
That’s why it’s important to maintain this knowledge and make it part of the collective unconscious, being something that people just know because we know it. It’s internalized just like the Statue of Liberty is in New York City.
Most Famous Airplanes
There’s no better way to start this list than with the start of aviation. Way back in the day, December 17, 1903, to be exact, a couple of brothers made a historic flight: the first successful flight of a heavier-than-air aircraft.
That’s right, we’re kicking things off with the first plane built by the now-legendary duo Orville and Wilbur Wright, the Wright Flyer.
Earlier I said that at the time of these airplanes’ construction, they were likely the most technologically advanced. This is the easiest example of that because it was the first!
The Wright Brothers actually were a couple of bicycle mechanics, but the duo was obsessed with the theory of flight. They used their mechanical inclination and engineering prowess, along with the help of a ton of research into aerodynamics, to build the first powered flying machine.
The brothers designed their massive biplane aircraft with a 40-foot and 4-inch wingspan, which, due to the technology available at the time, only allowed the aircraft to fly with one person (the pilot) onboard them.
This massive size makes it very funny by modern aviation standards to know that it was powered by a simple 12-horsepower bicycle engine. This tiny engine powered two pusher propellers and fought an uphill battle of having skids instead of wheels as the landing gear.
Despite all the adversity, The Wright Flyer managed to take flight for 12 seconds and cover a distance of 120 feet with Orville being the first-ever pilot in the history of the world. Later that day, Wilbur would outfly his brother flying for 59 seconds and covering 852 feet.
The first flight has since made Kitty Hawk the most famous location in all of aviation and made The Wright Flyer the most famous aircraft of all time. Virtually every plane built since owes their existence to the Wright Flyer!
After the Wright Brothers started aviation (imagine if you could claim to start an entire industry!), people began trying to push the boundaries. People were constantly trying to break records and show the possibilities of aircraft.
One man, Raymond Saulnier, decided he would take the immense challenge of flying across the English Channel. Up that point flying over water was a major “no, no.”
Airplanes didn’t have the capability to fly that far and stay in the air for that long. So, crossing the English Channel was a massive feat. It proved humans have the ability to conquer the air so well that they didn’t even fear flying over water.
Raymond Saulnier teamed up with the original designer of Bleriot aircraft, Louis Bleriot himself. These two men created the Bleriot XI.
The Bleriot XI really achieved the immortal status on July 25, 1909, when it flew the 25 miles across the English Channel. It took 36 minutes and 30 seconds. That’s pretty close to the current flight time going between Las Vegas, Nevada, and Orange County, California, to give you some perspective.
This really got the aviation train flowing, so to speak. The Americans didn’t like that this new industry they created was being bested by another country, so advancement flourished from this point onward.
Interestingly, following the outbreak of World War One, the Bleriot XI became the first military aircraft to see active service; being employed by the French military as an aerial reconnaissance and observation aircraft.
Air Force One
This might be a bit of a cheat because there isn’t a single “Air Force One.” It’s actually simply the callsign for the aircraft that is currently carrying POTUS.
But I’m not going to cover all the potential airplanes that could or have carried a President of the United States throughout their term.
Air Force One wasn’t a conveniently cool-sounding name they decided to use because even something as boring as the government knows there is a unique power in cool names. What actually happened was in 1953, a commercial flight operated by Eastern Airlines was flying in the same airspace.
The Eastern Airlines flight was number 8610 which is very close to what the President’s call sign was during that flight, “Air Force 610.” So to make differentiation easier, they adopted the call sign Air Force One to denote the flight the President is on.
But the most famous airplane to carry the President is the classic Boeing 747-200B. These are modified versions of the original and there are two different ones that are essentially the exact same. The tail numbers are 28000 and 29000.
The Air Force has changed the technical name from Boeing 747-200B to the VC-25A. That way it denotes that these are two-of-a-kind airplanes. There are no others in the world that are modified in the same way. Plus these blue and white behemoths are special for the United States President.
These magnificent VC-25As have a range of just about 8,000 miles and have the ability to refuel in flight. This is the part where I recommend you watch the amazing videos on Instagram of the process. Or go in depth with a YouTube video.
What might be the coolest aspect is that this airplane, which is being retired for new technology at the airlines, is equipped with top-of-the-line security and defense systems as well as all the technology to have the leader of the free world run the country from the skies.
But wait there’s more!
It’s large enough and well-equipped enough for up to 70 passengers, and a crew of 26. There are also conference rooms, dining rooms, and even a medical bay. It’s like a flying city basically.
Boeing 747 - Queen of the Skies
Keeping on theme with the same airplane, kind of, is the Queen of the Skies herself, the Boeing 747.
Ironically, the Boeing 747 was a military transport reject. So, it’s kind of ironic that it was then used as the Presidential transport.
The military denial story isn’t too crazy, but in 1963 the military was in need of a nose-loading large transport airplane. Boeing and Lockheed both submitted some designs. The Lockheed C5 Galaxy is what was chosen instead.
After this denial, Juan Trippe of Pan Am airlines was pressing Boeing to build something that was twice the size of the most popular airliners of the time, the Boeing 707 and the Douglas DC-8. Trippe’s goal was to reduce aircraft congestion at airports
Finally, in 1965, Boeing took up the challenge and used the basis of the military design they submitted earlier. They kept some ideas and changed others. This resulted in an aircraft that could function as either a passenger airliner or a transport cargo airplane.
Pan Am was pushing this for a reason and became the launch customer of the Queen of the Skies, the loving nickname given to the Boeing 747, by ordering 25 as soon as April 1966.
A major innovation came when Boeing decided to add a second deck to the 747. This didn’t stick because of the inability to evacuate in 90 seconds as required by the FAA. Instead, a dual aisle option was taken. There was still a second deck for the first-class added later.
Another important innovation that resulted from the Queen of the Skies was the engines. Turbojets were the popular engine at the time, but the high bypass turbofan was able to deliver twice the power on about ⅔ the fuel requirements.
Boeing teamed up with Pratt and Whitney to develop the JT9D as the powerplant of choice for this majestic beast. These powerful engines helped push this Jumbo Jet to be one of, if not the most recognizable aircraft in aviation history.
After Pratt and Whitney signed on, the maiden flight was on February 9, 1969. It was a huge success and pretty much never looked back. Continually innovating and updating the design until the Covid-19 Pandemic, which made this aircraft cease taking orders. However, Boeing will continue offering support for the aircraft at this time.
The fact we have essentially abandoned supersonic airliners is baffling to me. Cheers to the Boom Supersonic coming into existence to follow up the legacy that the Concorde left behind.
Seriously though, all airline pilots talk about how they wish they could have flown the Concorde when it was around. Its biggest claim to fame is that it was the first and only supersonic passenger aircraft to ever exist.
In fact, the Concorde was able to travel at two times the speed of sound. That’s also known as Mach 2. These speeds allowed the Concorde to get people from New York to London in just under 3 hours with a good tailwind.
If you were to book that flight right now, it would likely take about 7 hours.
The first commercial flight took place on January 21, 1976. But whilst heralded in the UK and France (who jointly built the Concorde), the Concorde wasn’t picked up elsewhere due to the fact it wasn’t particularly fuel efficient and that better supersonic airliners, like the Boeing 2707, looked as though they’d be introduced in a matter of years anyway.
Additionally, in December of 1970, the United States Senate voted to not allow commercial supersonic flights over land in the United States, with the exception of landing and taking off. The reasoning: noise.
Basically, since aviation started, people have been complaining about airplane noises. This leads to the massive argument by avgeeks to say if you don’t want the noise, then don’t live near an airport. The counterargument is that they didn’t expect noises as loud as the Concorde.
However, this ban didn’t last as it was found out that Air Force One is louder than the Concorde. But it still led to a lot of noise complaints by the general public.
The real downfall of the Concorde’s legendary run came because of the Air France flight 4590 crash on July 25, 2000. On this fateful day, the Concorde hit a piece of metal on take-off, which burst the tire. This caused the fuel tank to ignite and the plane to crash. There were no survivors.
Interestingly, this was the only crash on the Concorde’s record. But that was precisely the problem: it highlighted the fact that if something went wrong, it was nearly impossible for the pilot to recover safely.
Coupling this with the noise complaints and rising gas prices led to Air France and British Airways phasing out the Concorde, ending the era of supersonic travel.
Now, the Boom Supersonic is the airplane in the works that’s trying to bring supersonic travel back to the masses. But that remains to be seen.
Bell X-1 Glamorous Glennis
The Concorde is an amazing piece of machinery, but it wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for the valiant efforts of its predecessor, the Bell X-1.
The long and the short of the Bell X-1 resume is that it was an experimental aircraft, and the first to ever break the sound barrier. And best of all? It wasn’t jet-powered - it was rocket-powered.
It was piloted by one of, if not the best, pilot of all time Chuck Yeager, a veteran of WWII, Korea and Vietnam War who became the first person ever to fly at supersonic speed. He lovingly dubbed his revolutionary airplane the Glamorous Glennis.
A funny thing about aviation is that a successful mission means that it’s rather uneventful. So, when Chuck Yeager was piloting this insanely manufactured airplane, he was just flying like normal and he crossed the sound barrier.
Just like that.
Honestly, that’s how all aviators want their flights to go though. If everything goes as planned, then it was a major success. For that reason, we have to applaud Chuck Yeager’s flight.
Also, if you take into consideration the pure ability one would need to be able to successfully react to any and everything at that speed, it’s absolutely amazing. When flying in a small airplane like a Cessna 172 (which will show up later) it’s easy to get behind the plane.
In fact, that’s one of the main focuses of flight training. The goal is to teach the pilot to constantly stay ahead of the airplane and to anticipate any issues so the small problems don’t compound into bigger ones.
If you take a look at just about every single airplane crash in history, you will find a common thread. It’s not one issue that caused the crash. It was one issue followed by the wrong decision or a secondary issue. It compounds and escalates the severity of the situation.
That’s why it’s so incredible to have a manned flight reach these insane speeds.
Then to think that we advanced so much that we could build an airplane like The Concorde to travel at speeds far greater than the speed of sound, is simply awe inspiring.
But none of that would be possible if Bell didn’t build the X-1 airplane to reach the speed of sound the first time. That’s why this aircraft is so historically important and exactly why it’s one of the world’s most famous airplanes.
Other than having one of the coolest names ever, why is the Supermarine Spitfire so famous?
Its lineage can be traced back to the Schneider Trophy’s seaplane race competitions that started back in 1912. But the Great Depression was actually the key to its success.
Because everyone was trying to keep the costs as low as possible, the Spitfire was developed to be compact and cheap. After developing from aerial race airplanes, the Spitfire was developed as a prototype in 1936. Beginning its days as a Type 300, upgrades landed the first prototype of the Supermarine Spitfire.
This new airplane used 3 propeller blades instead of the more common 2 and was powered by a Rolls Royce Merlin engine, the Spitfire was hitting top speeds of over 340 miles per hour.
The reason the Spitfire is so famous starts with the insane speeds it hits. But coupling that with superior maneuverability, it became invaluable for the Battle of Britain. In fact, it’s credited with being the reason for the British victory and for protecting most of Britain.
Starting in July of 1940 and continuing until October, the Germans assaulted Britain with the Heinkel IIIs and Messerschmitts airplanes. The British capitalized on the Spitfire being the superior airplane and having better maneuverability to really battle back and hold off the Germans.
The Hawker Hurricanes were also used during this battle, and the British had the advantage of being on home skies. The locale matters because if an aircraft was shot down, the surviving pilot could make their way to the nearest airport to get back in the sky and continue to protect their country.
After this important British victory, the Supermarine Spitfire was recognized as being one of the greatest fighter planes of the time. It often gets mentioned in the same breath as the likes of the P-51 Mustang in the US, or the Mitsubishi Zero in Japan.
Airbus Beluga XL
Have you ever wondered what it would look like if we made an airplane that looked like a whale? Not many people have, but the folks at Airbus did.
They didn’t wonder this once, but twice.
Originally, the biggest freighter in the world was the Airbus Beluga. But as time went on, and the cargo the Beluga needed to transport got bigger and heavier, Airbus realized it needed a bigger aircraft. This led to the development of the Airbus Beluga XL - a bigger version of the already massive airplane.
Basically, here was the thought process: “Wow the A300 is a huge airplane! Let’s add some space to it to move bigger stuff around. We can call it the Beluga since it looks like a Beluga whale!” *a little while later* “What if we took the Beluga and made it even bigger?”
Thus, the Airbus Beluga XL was born.
Airbus is really an interesting aviation company. The name is literally perfect for transport aircraft. It makes sense that they are basically taking a bus but putting it in the sky.
When they announced that they were upgrading the Beluga from the A300 platform to the A330 widebody platform, people were amazed. The idea to take a giant airplane and make it bigger with the goal of shipping giant things is genius.
To put it more eloquently, the Beluga XL has an overall length of 207 feet long, 153 feet and 6 inches of it make up the loadable length. Then there is the cross-section max height of 24 feet and 7 inches and the cross-section max width of 26 feet and 6 inches. So, it has the capacity for two A350 wings for transport.
The reason people always bring up the Beluga XL is that it’s insanely huge. Also, it’s extremely unique looking. Some hate it and others love it.
Since we’re talking about Airbus, it would be rude not to bring up their constant one-upmanship in its longstanding rivalry with Boeing. Perhaps the most famous of which is the largest passenger airliner in the world: the Airbus A380.
Much like the 747, it is a four-engine, double-decker airplane that’s designed for comfort and to move a lot of people long distances.
Though the Covid-19 Pandemic kind of killed international air travel, it’s inevitably going to come back stronger than ever. It’s being witnessed as you take the time to read this article. Air travel is coming back in full force.
This, as you would expect, leads to the issue of how the massive amount of travelers are transported far and wide. There are other airplane platforms growing in popularity with higher ETOPS ratings (essentially, how far an aircraft is legally allowed to fly away from land safely in the event of an emergency) such as the Boeing 777 or Airbus A330, but nothing will top the largest airliner in the world.
The A380 helped pioneer the Super Jumbo class of aircraft. It was designed to be a bigger version of the Boeing 747 bringing 49% more floor area and 35% more seats in the standard 5-5-5 seat configuration.
This Super Jumbo Jet really pushed the envelope, but because of the Covid downturn and the desire for constant innovation, Airbus has ended the acceptance of more A380 orders after the current ones are completed.
Nonetheless, Qantas and Emirates remain popular airlines that utilize these beautiful pieces of machinery. Despite orders being ceased, Airbus will continue to offer support for the A380, so expect to see them in the skies for years to come.
These new travels are expected to come in spite of the Covid-19 Pandemic causing such serious changes in air travel. As a matter of fact, January 6, 2023, was the day Emirates brought the first A380 back into service since air travel was so significantly disrupted. It’s just the first of many though.
The Spirit of St. Louis
The pilot of this airplane is likely the most famous to have ever lived. Debatably, of course, but every single person on the earth knows the name Charles Lindbergh and reveres him as one of the greatest American heroes. The problem is that people never remember his airplane, The Spirit of St. Louis.
What is so interesting to me about this is that when Lindbergh was in search of an airplane that could make the long flight across the Atlantic ocean, he couldn’t get any company to fully commit. A few nibbles but no real bites.
Lindbergh had multiple companies he sought out and they all said no because the risk was too great. Then he went out to San Diego for a meeting with Ryan airlines and to discuss their M-2 airplane.
Mr. Donald A. Hall is the culprit to take up the challenge of building a monoplane that can withstand this incredible flight. He took the M-2 basis and added 2 feet of length and moved the cockpit around to make more space for gas tanks.
The craziest part about the design is that they opted to not have a front windscreen to see out. Instead, the space was filled with more gas tanks as fuel was the most precious resource for this journey. So, Lindbergh would have to look out the windows to see the runways for take-off and landing.
Interestingly, this concept is still used in flight training today because it helps pilots know their height above ground better than looking off the nose of the airplane.
Mr. Hall added a Wright Whirlwind J-5C engine to power the Spirit of St. Louis. This was a bold move as well because it was a newly developed engine and didn’t have a proven record of safety. Which was a bit nerve-wracking for Lindbergh.
He was able to do a few test flights; it wasn't the most stable airplane, so Lindbergh fully expected to have to physically fly the whole time to stay on course. The only real distance flight he had was going from San Diego to St. Louis, where the hospitality of the people gave him the idea for the name of the airplane, and continued on to New York.
Then on the morning of May 20, 1927, took off from New York City and made history. Lindbergh’s record-setting flight lasted 33 hours and 30 minutes. After flying a total distance of 3,610 miles, Lindbergh landed safely at LeBourget Field.
To make this an even more impressive display of pure human spirit, it must be noted that Charles Lindbergh had gone 55 hours without sleep once he landed. In his memoir The Spirit of St. Louis he notesthat his lack of sleep did cause some hallucinations. He was also underfed, but that was intentional to give him something else to focus on besides being sleepy.
This insane flight helped pave the way for more transatlantic flights. That’s why the Spirit of St. Louis is so important to aviation as a whole.
If you want to see the Spirit of St Louis today, it’s currently on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
Lockheed Vega 5b
Here’s a name you will see often in aviation: Lockheed (or Lockheed Martin as the present iteration of the company is known). It’s a company that has thrived through the years and is most well known for its military contracts and aeronautical advancements.
But early in the company’s history, they were just another airplane company trying to innovate for aviators worldwide. So, in 1927, Jack Northrop (another name you see a lot in aviation) and Allan Loughead developed the Vega.
The Vega is a beautifully crafted airplane. It had a cantilever one-piece spruce wing and a spruce veneer monocoque fuselage.
These features made the Vega a favorite among pilots who had the goal of setting distance and speed records.
There’s one name I expect just about everyone to recognize as being a Lockheed Vega fan and it’s that of Amelia Earhart.
Earhart bought her Vega 5B in 1930 and she dubbed it her “Little Red Bus.” She then took a few years to get to know the flight characteristics of the airplane and finally, on May 20, 1932, was the second person in history to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. Taking off from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, Canada, and landing in Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
As you would expect, her popularity exploded with this exploit. As did the already popular airplane she did it in.
But Earhart was courageous enough to set another record with a nonstop transcontinental flight in August of the same year, making her the first woman to do that. Basically, Earhart was a pioneer for aviation, setting records for mankind and breaking barriers for women.
Lockheed Model 10E Electra
Keeping on the theme of Amelia Earhart, it’s time to talk about her infamous airplane, the Lockheed Model 10E Electra.
As the previous famous airplane stated, Amelia Earhart was a worldwide sensation after completing her two incredible flights. First across the Atlantic Ocean, then across the continental United States.
Everyone had the same question for Earhart: What’s next?
Instead of sitting back and coasting on her laurels, which she had more than earned the right to be able to do, Earhart wasn’t going to settle. She set her sights on global conquest. Amelia Earhart was going to fly around the world.
For this journey, she knew she would need more than just a typical single-engine monoplane. She began shopping around, and already had a relationship with Lockheed as she loved her Vega 5B so much.
Earhart locked on to this relationship and decided to use the Lockheed Model 10E Electra. It was already a popular airliner at the time. Equipped with two engines and two rudders, Earhart felt the airplane was more than up to the challenge.
As we all know, her actual fate was much less amazing. As she was lost somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle. There are theories as to the cause of this disappearance, but nothing is for sure set in stone.
It’s a rabbit hole that won’t be fully explored right here due to the conspiracy theories involved, but it’s commonly accepted that the Bermuda Triangle disrupted instrumentation which caused communication error as well as spatial disorientation likely causing a crash.
Though her story was a tragedy, the airplane remains as one of the most famous in the history of aviation.
When it comes to pilot careers, there are multiple options, but only two are really popular: Airline pilot and private jet pilot. The second choice really wouldn’t exist in the capacity it does today without the development of the Gulfstream GIV business jet.
Business executives know that time is money. For them, having a private jet to hop around the globe and conduct business deals is extremely important. They don’t want to have to deal with TSA or large crowds.
Gulfstream jets dominate this market. And the main way they were able to build this success is because of the development of the Gulfstream GIV. The design began in 1983 and was really just updating the already successful Gulfstream GIII.
The GIV was given an extra 54 inches of cabin space to add an extra window and accommodate a few more people. The biggest innovations were the improvement of wing design and upgraded engines. These sound minute, but they were able to make the Gulfstream GIV the first official global jet.
The two Rolls Royce Mk 610-8 engines were more fuel efficient and more powerful than the predecessors, so coupling that with a superior wing design to add more stability and less drag was ideal.
Not to mention this airplane already offers top-of-the-line luxury with the interior. The cruising altitude of 45,000 feet puts them higher than many airliners and a maximum speed of 505 knots (otherwise known as Mach 0.88) guarantees you to make the important appointments.
Even if you’re flying for fuel savings, a common practice from a safety perspective, you can reach speeds upwards of 459 knots. These features made this aircraft ideal for busy people that need to hop the globe for whatever reason.
It’s still in use, by everyone from famous celebrities (I’m looking at you Tom Cruise), to fractional ownership companies, to private jet charter operators to even the US government.
Since its inception, it’s truly become an iconic aircraft, if not for its sheer speed and opulence, but for the fact it has been featured in movies as the go-to private jet of choice since the 1980s!
If you’re into the “business scene” and keep up with all the latest entrepreneurs like Gary Vaynerchuck, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos, there’s a good chance you’ve heard the name, Richard Branson.
Richard Branson has been disrupting business and society as a whole since he could talk. He is the head of Virgin and is extremely passionate about the latest venture with Virgin Galactic.
Virgin Galactic actually developed what they’re hoping will be the first-ever passenger spaceplane. That’s right. Not an airplane. A spaceplane.
They’re literally trying to create a whole new category of aviation. They are developing an aircraft that is literally designed for space tourists who want to experience suborbital space travel for themselves. It’s likely going to begin as a novelty before moving into the actual transportation category.
What’s even crazier is that they freaking did it.
On July 11, 2021, Virgin Galactic launched (or took off? I’m not really sure of the appropriate terminology here) the VSS Unity spaceplane with a full crew. This crew included the crazy man himself, Richard Branson.
This was a bold move because it was still a test flight. If anything went wrong, Virgin Galactic would be without a leader.
Luckily, VSS Unity successfully made the suborbital test flight going up to 282,000 feet above the earth before dropping back down to Spaceport America.
Though this aircraft isn’t the most well-known yet, this flight is revolutionary as it is really upping the competition to also build something that can perform as well as this. Who knows, maybe in a few years we’ll be taking suborbital flights to different continents for a weekend getaway.
The technological innovation for the VSS Unity to achieve the speed and altitude necessary for this mission is incredible. It is extremely inspiring for the future.
As has been the case in aviation since the beginning, innovation is proven and escalated upon. This gives humanity the hope of expanding outside of the earth’s orbit for leisure trips.
Additionally, as technology does, it will price down. In the same way iPhones were originally only for the wealthy but now even children have them, suborbital entertainment trips will begin as a luxury for the wealthy, but we will all get a taste of this sort of thing one day.
The VSS Unity is just setting the stage for everyone else.
Here’s a big switch-up. We’re going from the most technologically advanced airplane here to one of the least technologically advanced, but easily the most popular airplane in aviation history: Cessna 172.
Just about every single pilot in modern times has flown a Cessna 172 at some point in their career. Usually the beginning. The Cessna 172 is the most popular training aircraft, and, as such, is the most abundant in all of aviation.
The beauty of a Cessna 172 is that it’s incredibly stable. That means that if there is some sort of disruption, such as turbulence, it will return to its original position over time. If you turn left on the yoke, it’ll eventually end back in the same straight and level flight.
They’re just so safe and easy to learn for that exact reason. It’s nearly impossible to mess up flying it. They have the ability to do some mild maneuvering, and you can get them set up to be aerobatic if you so desire.
But at their core, a 4-seat airplane that is comfortable and easy to fly. That makes it such a perfect trainer aircraft.
Plus, if you need something to just kind of cruise around in and get some amazing views, the high wing Cessna 172 is literally perfect.
It’s extremely popular and easily the most famous airplane specifically because of its abundance.
“Memphis Belle” B-17 Bomber
This is a much less exciting one to remember because it’s a warplane. It’s tough when it comes to aviation because necessity leads to development and a lot of times that development starts with the military. It’s a little morbid that such incredible innovations come with the goal of creating destruction.
That is how the B-17 came to be.
Dubbed the Flying Fortress for its mass and protective outer shell, the B-17 is giant. Actually, the tale is that the Flying Fortress moniker came from a reporter exclaiming at the first public unveiling of the airplane, “My God! It looks like a Flying Fortress!” And Boeing was smart enough to trademark the name.
When the military needed a bomber, Boeing stepped up and said, “check this out.” So, in the 1930s they developed a four-engine heavy bomber.
This couldn’t have come at a more useful time though because as World War II broke out and the United States was forced to join in after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the B-17 started seeing some serious action.
The United States Army Air Force (one of the pre-1940 predecessors to the United States Air Force as we know it today) teamed up with the British Royal Air Force. The United States Army Air Force would perform daytime bombings and the B-17 Flying Fortress could hold up to the enemy fire.
This is where the Memphis Belle comes in with an impressive feat of its own: it was the first B-17 to complete 25 bombing missions. It was part of the 91st Bombardment Group and was piloted by Lt. Robert Morgan for the historic mission.
Part of the historicism of this mission comes from the goal being for a complete tour of 25 missions. Reaching this number enabled the crew and aircraft to go home.
The sheer fact that Memphis Belle flew 25 missions when almost every other B-17 did not makes it a worthy addition to this list. And that’s without looking at the 1990 Hollywood feature film about the aircraft, which is a personal favorite of mine!
North American P-51 Mustang
The Memphis Belle wouldn’t have successfully completed those 25 missions without the help of possibly the most recognizable fighter plane of all time, the P-51 Mustang.
Seriously, this is one of those airplanes that if you ask someone to picture an airplane, they will think of this. It’s the one that has the mouth painted on the front. Literally, it’s the most famous airplane from World War II.
To expand on the Memphis Belle needing the Mustang, the fact the United States were doing bomber raids during the day made them have successful missions, but they didn’t always return. Because the enemy could see during the day, bombers were slow and not very maneuverable, so they were easy targets.
After many unsuccessful flights, the United States decided to start sending bombers with armed escorts of the P-51 Mustang. This considerably improved the odds of a successful mission because the enemy had to get through the speedy Mustangs before getting to the B-17s.
It was a complete game changer. It helped make the mandatory 25 missions much more common.
This fantastic aircraft has a max speed of 437 miles per hour and a max range of 1,000 miles. The short wingspan of 37 feet made this a high speed and extremely maneuverable fighter plane.
Then to make it even more dangerous, the P-51 Mustang has 6 .50 caliber machine guns and 10 5-inch rockets or 2,000 pounds of bombs. To say it was a match for anything the Imperial Japanese Air Force or German Luftwaffe had would be an understatement.
Basically the P-51 is still a formidable fighter plane for today. Plus they just look so freaking cool.
About THE AUTHOR
After spending years watching every video I could find about flying, I finally scratched the itch and got my pilots license. Now I fly every chance I get, and share the information I learn, here.Read More About Joe Haygood