The 20 most famous planes and aircraft - FLYING Magazine (2023)

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We pilots love aircraft types. In fact, most of us have a favorite airplane, whether it's a Piper Cub or a Lockheed SR-71. There are types of planes and airplanes. concrete plans. The history of aviation is marked by the arrival of a unique and very special aircraft on site, sometimes very publicly and sometimes in secret. From the first airplane to fly - talk about a unique design - to airplanes that entered the record books or reshaped the popular imagination, the history of famous individual aircraft in many ways mirrors the history of aviation itself. We're proud to present a short list of 20 of the most famous airplanes ever flown (or orbited). Some of them have an unbreakable influence on any list of famous aircraft; with some of the others, well, we'll let you be the judge. Enjoy the ride.

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Memphis Bellewas the name of one of the first B-17 bombers to safely complete 25 missions during World War II. The milestone led to a war bond promotional tour of 31 US cities during the war and a Hollywood feature film in 1990. Member of the 324th Bombardment Squadron, theMemphis Belleflew his first mission on November 7, 1942 and his last on May 19, 1943. Captain Robert Morgan named the B-17 in honor of Margaret Polk, his mistress in Tennessee. After the war, the city of Memphis purchased the aircraft and displayed it outdoors at the National Guard armory near the city's amusement park. The effects of time and vandals left theMemphis Bellein a sorry state until the plane was salvaged by the Memphis Belle Memorial Association. Today, the aircraft is undergoing an extensive 10-year restoration in preparation for its permanent public display at the United States Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio.

Check out our photo gallery of Memphis Belle here.

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A red and white Pitts Special called Pitts Special hangs above the entrance to the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center at the National Air and Space Museumlittle stinker. The oldest surviving Pitts,little stinkerIt was the second Pitts airplane, built by Curtis Pitts in 1946 and made famous by Betty Skelton, who flew it in the late 1940s to become the United States Aerobatic Champion for several years. Wyoming, the Little Stinker was built with a fuselage frame constructed of steel tubes and covered with fabric. Powered by an 85 hp Continental C85 engine, the tiny Taildragger biplane, which was 14 feet, 6 inches long and had a wingspan of 16 feet, 10 inches, responded quickly to pilot input. The exceptional maneuverability demonstrated in Skelton's early competitions has stood the test of time and the Pitts remains a highly successful platform for stunt competitions and air shows.

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The Howard Hughes H-4 Hercules, widely known as the Spruce Goose, was an engineering marvel of its time and the largest aircraft ever to fly metals. Despite its name, however, the flying boat was mostly made of birch. The legendary Howard Hughes conceived the project in 1942 and won a US Air Force contract to ferry men and supplies across the Atlantic. Said to have cost $22 million to construct, a sizable sum in the 1940s, the Spruce Goose took off just once from Long Beach Harbor on November 2, 1947, flying at about 70 feet for about a minute. But that single flight proved to many critics that a 219-foot aircraft could fly with a 320-foot wingspan. The Spruce Goose is currently on display at the Evergreen Museum in McMinnville, Oregon.

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Adventurers Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones made history in March 1999 when their Breitling Orbiter 3 completed the first non-stop balloon flight around the world. The harrowing 20-day journey took the couple across Europe, Africa, Asia, the Pacific Ocean, Central America and the Atlantic. The hybrid Rozier balloon used for the record flight was 180 feet tall and carried its pilots in a pressurized Kevlar and carbon fiber nacelle that pumped in oxygen and nitrogen and expelled carbon dioxide while the balloon was carried by the wind to altitudes over 37,000 feet . The journey began on March 1, 1999 in Switzerland and ended on March 21 with a safe landing in the Egyptian desert after the balloon and its occupants had traveled 25,361 miles. The Breitling Orbiter III nacelle is now in the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. Three years later, in June 2002, Steve Fossett completed the first solo flight around the world in his Spirit of Freedom balloon in just under 15 days.

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US Airways Flight 1549 began like any other routine flight when the Airbus A320 took off from LaGuardia Runway 4 bound for Charlotte, North Carolina on the afternoon of January 15, 2009. But three minutes into the flight, passengers heard a roar as a flock of Canadian geese killed not one, but both of the plane's engines. At just 2,818 feet off the ground, the massive plane suddenly became little more than dead weight, circling New York City. Creepy audio revealed ATC unsuccessfully attempting to direct now-famous Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger to an emergency landing site. With the final words, "We'll be on the Hudson," Sullenberger finished, concentrating all his energies on maneuvering the Airbus into a calm waterhole in the Hudson River. From the moment the engines shut down, the plane had less than three minutes of lift before the crew deftly maneuvered the plane onto the river's surface. All 155 people on board survived the accident, which was quickly dubbed the "Miracle on the Hudson".

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Manfred von Richtofen, known as the Red Baron, was the highest-scoring ace of World War I, recording 80 official aerial combat victories and perhaps as many as 100 overall. He achieved all of his last victories with his bright red triplane Fokker Dr.I. The Dr.I entered service late in the war and offered exceptional maneuverability compared to other activities at the time. Fokker developed it in response to the Sopwith Triplane appearing on the Western Front in early 1917. On his first day as Dr.I. He was so impressed that he told his commanders to begin large-scale construction immediately. He wasn't as daring as other fighter pilots of the time, but he excelled as an air tactician and marksman. He usually dived in from above to attack, with the advantage of having the sun behind him while other German pilots covered his rear and flanks. Von Richtofen was shot down and killed in a dogfight in northern France on April 21, 1918. The victory was originally credited to a Canadian ace, Captain Roy Brown, but historians believe it's more likely the Red Baron was killed by anti-aircraft fire.

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As you probably know, the Air Force One callsign is used for every plane that the President of the United States flies. We usually think of Air Force One as the specially outfitted Boeing 747s - there are two of them known by their military designation as VC-25s - that began life serving President George H.W. Bush. Previously, the President flew aboard a Boeing 707, introduced during the Nixon administration as Air Force One and making its final flight in that capacity in 2001, as President George W. Bush's pilot. Built as an air command center, Air Force One is now air refuelable, allowing it to remain airborne indefinitely. Inside, there are 4,000 square feet of living space on three levels, including an executive suite with a large office and conference room. There are 85 onboard phones and 19 televisions for the 70 passengers it can carry.

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The idea of ​​sending paying tourists into the cosmos would sound like the plot of a sci-fi story before Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne rocket explodes in suborbital space. Rutan and his ingenious converted spaceplane gained worldwide fame in 2004 when the SpaceShipOne prototype won the $10 million Ansari X award, becoming the first privately funded manned spacecraft to leave Earth's atmosphere. Since then, Rutan has worked with Sir Richard Branson to build a fleet of state-of-the-art spacecraft based on SpaceShipOne's reusable design that will take guests on brief encounters with the ease of space from the company's base in New Mexico. To reach suborbital heights, SpaceShipOne was taken to an altitude of 50,000 feet by another of Rutan's creations, White Knight One. From there, the spacecraft took off and gilded for about 10 seconds before firing its rocket motor. Piloted by veteran test pilot Mike Melville on the 2004 X-Prize flights, SpaceShipOne was accelerating to Mach 2.9 when it exploded more than 100 kilometers above the planet. From there, the rear half of the craft flipped up, increasing drag and allowing for hands-free re-entry.

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Over 800 feet long, theHindenburgIt was a sight to behold, its massive body stretching a distance of nearly 3 football pitches. Developed in the 1930's and claims over 7 million cubic feet of volume, theHindenburgremains the largest aircraft ever flown nearly eight decades after its maiden flight. Although originally conceived for the use of helium gas, the United States would not cede its monopoly on the substance to Nazi Germany for fear the country would use it for weapons development. Instead, the Hindenburg was forced to rely on highly flammable hydrogen for its buoyancy. The airship, which included amenities such as a full dining room and smoking lounge, made its first commercial voyage across the Atlantic in 1936, carrying 1,002 passengers. But its glory was short-lived. On May 6, 1937, theHindenburgFire caught fire on landing in Lakehurst, New Jersey. 36 of the 97 people on board died in the inferno, and footage of the fiery cataclysm was played in press around the world, ending airship travel.

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Planning a circumnavigation flight, Amelia Earhart bought a twin-engine Lockheed 10-E Electra in 1936, registration number NR16020. The Electra was an all-aluminum aircraft designed to carry up to 12 people, with adjustable propellers, flaps and retractable landing gear - relatively new innovations for the time. Other cutting-edge technologies included a Western Electric communications radio and a Bendix Radio Direction Finder (RDF), the predecessor of the Automatic Direction Finder (ADF). Earhart's Electra was modified to include six fuel tanks in the wings and six in the fuselage, holding 1,151 gallons of fuel, giving the aircraft a range of over 4,000 miles. After departing east from Oakland, California, on her circumnavigation attempt with Fred Noonan in May 1937, Earhart flew some 22,000 miles in NR16020 before mysteriously disappearing near Howland Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

See our photo gallery of Amelia Earhart here.

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Many barriers in aviation presented a challenge for engineers and pilots. But as aircraft evolved, one of those barriers - the sound barrier - was believed by many to be unbreakable. The naysayers were proven wrong on October 14, 1947, when Charles E. "Chuck" Yeager strapped himself into the Bell X-1 missile. To maximize speed, Bell Aircraft designed the X-1's fuselage in the form of a .5 caliber machine gun bullet, which is known to be stable at supersonic speeds. The wings were made thin to minimize drag, but although sweep designs are now known to be faster, the X-1's wings were straight. The plane was powered by an XLR-11 engine that burned liquid oxygen, alcohol and water. On its historic flight, the X-1 was dropped from the bomb bay of a Boeing B-29 bomber at 23,000 feet. Yeager then boarded the bright orange X-1, which he named Glamorous Glennis in honor of his wife, to 43,000 feet, where he reached Mach 1.06.

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In the history of NASA's space shuttle program, astronauts have accomplished some incredible feats, like building the International Space Station, making the first non-binding spacewalk, and launching the Hubble Telescope, to name a few. This era of ingenuity and achievement goes straight back to the day of April 12, 1981Colombia, NASA's first space shuttle, launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Designed to revitalize space travel after a long hiatus, the Space Shuttle was an entirely new type of spacecraft - the first that could not only be flown but also be reused in later missions. Design work on the Space Shuttle began in the early 1970s, and after years of design changes and optimizations, engineers agreed on the savings and reduced risk offered by a Space Shuttle launched into space by two solid rocket boosters. The design turned out to be a winner.Colombiaalone would complete 28 flights totaling 122.7 million miles, laying the foundation for three decades of incredible Space Shuttle missions.


View our "A Look Back at NASA's Shuttle Program" photo gallery here.

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North American Aviation launched over 9,800 B-25 bombers during World War II. But 16 of these twin-engine planes became particularly famous. It was the B-25B Mitchells that were used in the Doolittle Raid, the surprise attack on Japan on April 18, 1942. It was the first time a medium bomber had been deployed from an aircraft carrier, and Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle was forced to launch his Raiders early. As a result, the planes ran out of fuel before their actual destination in mainland China. While the aircraft were lost, most of the crew survived. The air attack surprised the Japanese and forced them to withdraw some of their fighter groups to protect their borders. This weakened the Japanese front and boosted the morale of the US military, which had suffered heavy casualties in the previous months.

Check out our The Doolittle Raid, Remembered photo gallery here.

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The Vin Fiz is an airplane that few people have heard of today, but in its day it was arguably the most famous airplane in the world. Despite the bird's odd name, the Vin Fiz was just a slightly modified Wright biplane. But thanks to a series of unusual circumstances, in 1911 it became the first plane to fly coast-to-coast in the continental United States (which was all there was in the United States in 1911). Vin Fiz's nickname comes from a soft drink manufacturer who invested the money for the journey, which took months and a huge amount of infrastructure, including an accompanying escort train. The pilot, Calbraith Perry Rodgers, an inexperienced aviator, bought the Wright plane to win an award presented by editor William Randolph Hearst for the first transcontinental flight, but Rodgers never received the money. The plane left Long Island, New York, in mid-September 1911 and flew across the country, making 75 landings and crashing 16 times while constantly being rebuilt — the plane is said to have landed in Pasadena, California, in front of a crowd of many thousands in early November, had very little in common with the plane that had taken off from New York weeks earlier. Rodgers suffered a horrific injury shortly after landing in Pasadena, flew the Vin Fiz into the Pacific Ocean near Long Beach after recovering sufficiently to return to the cockpit, but died shortly thereafter in another accident, this time in the Pacific Ocean surf, your original destination. Vin Fiz is now part of the collection of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

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Like several other planes on this list, the Voyager was purpose-built for one mission to prove a far-fetched concept. In this case, it was about traveling around the world on a tank of gas. The unconventional carbon-fiber airframe, designed by engineering legend Burt Rutan, had a central fuselage and twin booms mounted along a 110.8-metre wing and was powered by twin Continental engines mounted in the nose and tail of the aircraft were assembled. The front engine was a 130 hp O-240, while the rear was a 110 hp IOL-200. Voyager had 7,011.5 pounds of fuel in 17 tanks on board when she embarked on her questionable voyage in 1986. Fuel-laden wingtips dragged across the runway, raising doubts about the success of the trip. But damaged wingtips didn't stop Burt's brother, Dick Rutan, and Jeana Yeager from completing the historic journey, which took just over nine days.

Check out our Awesome Airplanes of Burt Rutan photo gallery here.

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Commanded by Colonel Paul Tibbets, the Enola Gay was the first aircraft to drop a nuclear weapon when it bombed Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. The famous B-29 Superfortress, named after Tibbet's mother, served as a meteorological reconnaissance platform three days later, during the atomic bombing of Nagasaki that led to Japan's unconditional surrender and ended World War II. The Enola Gay was one of 15 Nebraska-built B-29 "Silverplate" with modifications to carry nuclear weapons. The aircraft was personally selected by Tibbets while still on the production line. Tibbets was appointed commander of the 509th Composite Group and was personally informed of the existence of the atomic bomb by Manhattan Project scientists. He was chosen to fly the Hiroshima bombing mission because of his piloting skills, which he had demonstrated in dozens of bombing missions in Europe and North Africa, and because he had more experience flying the B-29. Today, the Enola Gay is on display at the Smithsonian's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia.

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One of the most significant flights in history was the first crossing of the English Channel, a feat that several other pilots had attempted and failed in their quest for a cash prize offered by Lord Northcliffe, editor of the London Daily Mail, in October 1908 was. England. Finally, Louis Blériot completed the feat on July 25, 1909 in his own design, the Blériot XI. Unlike most aircraft built in the early 1900s, the Bleriot used a monoplane design with a front-mounted 25 hp Anzani engine. The fuselage was made of wood and the wings were made of fabric. While winds were calm when he left the French coast, gusty winds at Dover caused Blériot to crash his plane, which never flew again. But this was not a landing contest. Not only did Blériot win the cash prize, but its historic 36-minute flight demonstrated that airplanes could overcome geographic barriers — an achievement that significantly shrank the world. The Blériot XI became a great success and some examples are still flying today.

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The most famous spacecraft are known for a single notable flight, as is the case with the Apollo 11 Lunar ModuleAdler. In fact, the words "AAdlerlanded,” uttered by Neil Armstrong after the module landed on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969, are among the most famous words ever uttered by man. The mission carried an unfathomable risk. The spacecraft separated from command orbiter Columbia commanded by Michael Collins. The module then entered lunar orbit and descended to the lunar surface, where, piloted by Armstrong, it landed undamaged. It then spent nearly a day assisting Armstrong and fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin on their world-changing visit to another celestial body. After a successful moonwalk and a well-deserved sleep, Armstrong lifted theAdlersuccessfully undocked from the lunar surface, it redocked with Columbia and rejoined the crew of Apollo 11, who then successfully returned to Earth, landing in the North Pacific on July 25. Many ofof the eagleMissions had never been done before. Unlike the Columbia command module, the Lunar Module isAdlerit is not part of the Air and Space Museum collection; Instead, it rests somewhere on the lunar surface, having collided with it a few months after its historic first landfall there as its orbit decayed.

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While it is debatable whether the Wright Brothers were actually the first to achieve powered flight, there is no doubt that the Wright Flyer was a revolutionary machine of its time. Developed using elements from the brothers' glider designs with some aerodynamic aspects tested in a rudimentary wind tunnel, the Wright Flyer was a canard biplane with a wooden frame and fabric-covered wings. It was powered by a four-cylinder 12 hp engine driving two large wooden propellers turning in opposite directions. A stick-shaped wooden lever controlled pitch, and the aircraft was steered by wing sweep, achieved by the pilot sliding left and right, aided by a mobile platform. The photographically documented first flights of the Wright Flyers on December 17, 1903 made them one of the most famous airplanes in history. And the Wright Brothers' shows in the United States and Europe have inspired up-and-coming aircraft manufacturers to come up with their own designs.

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For several years, businessman Raymond Orteig's 1919 offer to pay a cash prize of $25,000 to the first pilot to fly non-stop from New York to Paris or vice versa remained unfulfilled. But in the mid-1920s, the young and intrepid aviator Charles Lindbergh took up the challenge. Despite objections from many in the industry, Lindbergh wanted the weight advantage of a single-engine aircraft and found it in the Ryan M-2 high-wing monoplane. San Diego-based Ryan Airlines agreed to build a heavily modified version of the M-2 for Lindbergh, lengthening the fuselage and wingspan, adding additional fuel tanks, and moving the main fuel tank in front of the pilot instead of behind him. The finished product was assembled in April 1927, less than 60 days after Lindbergh placed his order. After transporting the plane to New York and weathering out the inclement weather, Lindbergh took off on his historic flight on May 20. Thirty-three and a half hours later, theSpirit of Saint Louislanded at Le Bourget Field, made history and amazed the world with the endless possibilities that aviation offers like never before, and inspired the launch ofpopular aviationMagazine, later renamedflight. After his successful flight, Lindbergh toured Central and South America aboard the Spirit of St. Louis. Louis before taking the plane to its final resting place at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, in April 1928, where it is today.

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