de Havilland Mosquito photos by Scott Slocum
Rare Airplanes in Flight
When I first came across Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft as a new associate editor at Flying magazine in the mid-1990s, I was already a longtime aviation-history enthusiast — an incurable condition I inherited from my father. Jane’s, as I hope you know, is the record of aircraft development. Most years since 1909, Jane’s, founded by Fred Jane, has published a volume that audaciously proposes to do just what the name of the tome promises: document every production airplane in the world (along with a good number of kits and projects and, frankly, wild dreams).
While I knew a good deal about the stars of the aviation universe, Jane’s opened my eyes to the fact that the history of aircraft development is a vast subject. I quickly realized it is too deep, broad, overlapping and variegated for one mind to ever be able to take in. This fact somehow made the whole history of aircraft all the more beautiful and sacred to me. There have been many thousands of different kinds of airplanes built over more than a hundred years’ time in more than a hundred countries around the world. Of all those aircraft, the sad fact is that only a very small percentage have survived to fly today. The history of aircraft is, by definition, the history of rare aircraft.
The good news is there are a lot of airplanes still flying in the world, and a few of them are very rare aircraft indeed. This is because there are many restorers out there, many of whom have a keen interest in a certain airplane or a particularly interesting period of aviation history. It takes a village to keep rare airplanes flying or, in some cases, to bring them back from the dead. As you will see in the pages that follow, without the combination of dedicated individuals and the resources offered by an institution — generally a museum — with an interest in preserving history, there would be far fewer rare airplanes flying today.
When we first discussed this story, our idea was to cover the rarest airplanes in the world, a laudable goal but one we quickly realized was impossible. By definition, the rarest airplane in the world is one of which there is only one example flying. We believe in the idea that it being a “flying” example matters; some reasonable airplane enthusiasts may disagree. In the end, we can only hazard a guess as to how many one-of-a-kind airplanes are flying, but it is surely in the hundreds.
Instead, what we have arrived at here is a collection of rare airplanes, most but not all of which are one-of-a-kind examples. We’ve tried to cover every period of aviation history, from early flight to the jet age, and we’ve tried to take into account the only thing we are really sure about: For one reason or another, these airplanes are ones that we care about deeply. We think you will too. — Robert Goyer