Top 100 Airplanes | Flying Magazine

Top 100 Airplanes

Here are some of the distinctive airplanes that made Flying's Top 100. For the full list, see the gallery at the bottom of the page.

Flying Magazine is proud to introduce Flying's Top 100 Airplanes, a web-based compendium that names the 100 best, most significant and most compelling aircraft designs of all time.

The list of authors who contributed to the project includes test pilot and airshow legend Bob Hoover, golf Hall of Famer Arnold Palmer, Hollywood A-lister Harrison Ford, NASA astronaut Robert "Hoot" Gibson, aviation training pioneer Hal Shevers, former Cessna CEO Jack Pelton, and more.

Click through the gallery below to check out which airplanes made the list, and which didn't, and in the process fall in love all over again with some of your favorite aircraft of all time.

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Top 100 Airplanes

Top 100 Airplanes

Top 100 Airplanes: MiG-21

101. MiG-21

The MiG-21 was the original “Lightweight Fighter.” Flown by over 50 nations, it continues in use with 19 countries. Powered by a Tumansky turbojet of 12,650 pounds thrust with top speed over Mach 2.0, it is simple and robust, with excellent performance. At maximum gross weight of 15,650 pounds, it has a thrust to weight ratio of over 0.80 for exceptional acceleration and climb. It employed a lighter wing loading than other fighters of its day and was therefore able to outturn virtually all of its competitors. It is the most produced supersonic fighter, more than 11,400 having been built. — Robert “Hoot” Gibson

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Top 100 Airplanes

100. Waco 10

Instantly popular when it was first introduced in 1927, the Waco 10 was an open cockpit, three-place biplane of steel tube and fabric construction. It quickly accounted for more than 40 percent of the aircraft sold in that year with almost one per day rolling out the factory doors. The Waco 10 was initially powered by the cheap and plentiful 90 hp Curtiss OX-5 V-8 engine, but engines up to 300 hp were eventually mounted to the versatile airframe. Ultimately 1,623 of the small biplanes were built between 1927 and 1933 as the Waco Aircraft Co. grew into the largest aircraft builder of the 1930s. — Jeff Skiles, “Miracle on the Hudson” copilot and Waco owner

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Top 100 Airplanes

99. Ercoupe

Fred Weick’s little side-by-side flier was a revolutionary approach to personal aviation. Designed in the mid-1930s to be so safe that just about anyone could fly one, the Ercoupe, which was an 85 mph cruiser, featured many modern design approaches, including metal construction, excellent visibility and tricycle landing gear. The Ercoupe also boasted two-axis, rudderless, “stall proof” control. But for all of its safety advances, its safety record was no better than those of its contemporaries, and the design bounced around for decades between numerous manufacturers. Today, the Ercoupe is much loved by its hundreds of owners for being a stable, two-seat, fun little flier, just as Weick envisioned.

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Courtesy of Baldur Sveinsson

Top 100 Airplanes

98. Consolidated B-24 Liberator

Designed by Consolidated Aircraft in the late 1930s to outperform the popular B-17, the B-24 Liberator could pack more payload, fly faster and go farther than its Flying Fortress contemporary. The all-metal airplane experienced reduced drag during combat, thanks to its unique roller shutter bomb-bay doors, and came equipped with the first tricycle landing gear outfitted on a heavy aircraft. While the B-24 never attained the kind of fame known by the B-17, it should have. The Liberator participated in all combat theaters and was produced in greater number than any other American aircraft during World War II.

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Top 100 Airplanes

97. Mitsubishi Zero

More so than any other of its aircraft, the Mitsubishi Zero epitomized Japan's World War II air capabilities. Renowned for its strength as a dogfighter, the lightweight, agile airplane was the first naval fighter that could outperform land aircraft. The Zero would see prolific use throughout the war, as a total of approximately 11,000 of the fighters were produced through 1945, the most by far of any Japanese airplane. With the capability to reach speeds up to 350 mph and a range just shy of 2,000 miles, the aircraft gave the Japanese an early upper hand in combat, one that would subside later in the war with the introduction of more apt American fighters.

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Top 100 Airplanes

96. Eclipse 500

One of the most fascinating stories in all of aviation is that of the Eclipse 500 jet, which was the ultimate private pilot’s dream. With six seats, weighing just 6,000 pounds but capable of 41,000 feet and 370 knots, it seemed too good to be true. Its development and promotion, headed by Vern Raburn, took many years, cost a billion dollars and left hundreds of would-be owners out hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece. After all was said and done, Eclipse went bankrupt, but the airplane survived. The new company has earned a production certificate for the Eclipse jet. It now does everything Raburn always said it would.

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Top 100 Airplanes

95. Lancair Columbia/Cessna Corvalis

During the 1990s, homebuilding impresario Lance Neibauer decided to see what life on the certified side would look like. His initial foray would be known as the Columbia. Based loosely on the homebuilt Lancair ES, the Columbia launched a formula familiar today, a high-power (310 hp), fixed-gear, sidestick-controlled, low-wing composite speedster with docile flying manners. Columbia Aircraft suffered a series of setbacks — including a freak Oregon hailstorm — and eventually went out of business. Cessna purchased the assets, relaunched production and eventually renamed the airplane the Corvalis. Today the Corvalis, with Garmin avionics and excellent creature comforts, is a premier personal transportation airplane.

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Top 100 Airplanes

94. Boeing 787

With 20 percent greater fuel efficiency and 20 percent lower carbon emissions than those of its competitors, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is one of the greatest technological advancements to land on the airline scene in decades. Comprised of 50 percent composites, this midsize “plastic” airliner has engines 60 percent quieter than the norm, as well as a range unparalleled by other jets of its class. It’s complete with large, electronically dimmable windows and other passenger amenities, not to mention numerous high-end safety features in the cockpit.

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Top 100 Airplanes

93. Luscombe Silvaire

Initially produced in the late 1930s, the Luscombe Model 8 made its mark on the light aircraft scene with an all-metal monocoque design, the first construction of its kind to thrive on a large scale. The original Model 8 was equipped with a rag wing and a Continental A-50 flat-four engine, but later, more prolific versions of the aircraft traded in the fabric for aluminum and the A-50 for more powerful engines, like the A-65 and the C-90. Thanks to its responsive controls, the high-wing two-seater has garnered a reputation as an aircraft that demands an acute touch from a proficient pilot, a reputation that has endured throughout the decades along with the Luscombe’s appeal among classic aircraft enthusiasts.

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Top 100 Airplanes

92. Diamond DA40 DiamondStar

Given more time, Diamond Aircraft’s four-place DA40 DiamondStar could climb dramatically on future lists of the most significant airplanes in history. With its slick, rivet-free fuselage, the DA40 easily outruns and outclimbs a new Cessna 172, despite having the same fuel-efficient, four-cylinder engine. Its long wings give it an impressive 10:1 glide ratio (though the trade-off of low wing loading is a rougher ride in turbulence) and the seats are designed to withstand a 26 G impact. The DA40’s best attributes, in our opinion? An exceptional safety record, good manners in flight, and visibility from the cockpit greenhouse that rivals the scene on an Imax movie screen.

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Top 100 Airplanes

91. Pilatus PC-12

There’s nothing in the skies remotely like this big, Swiss, pressurized turboprop single, an airplane that’s as comfortable in Cannes as it is in the Canadian Rockies. Introduced in 1991, the PT6-powered PC-12 has been a solid seller for Pilatus thanks to its remarkable versatility, rough-field-ready gear, midsize jet-class cabin, huge side-loading utility door, highly reconfigurable cabin, unreal short-field capabilities and the economies of a single with the payload of some turboprop twins. Today’s PC-12 has an improved gross weight, flat-panel avionics with all the bells and whistles and a high-end BMW-designed interior. Despite all the advances, the PC-12 is still an airplane that yearns for adventure.

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Top 100 Airplanes

90. Hawker Beechcraft Premier I

When first certified, the Hawker Beechcraft Premier was the only composite fuselage bizjet and the world’s fastest single-piloted business jet, combining speeds of 0.80 Mach and 320 kias with the largest cabin in its class. Powered by FJ44 engines of 2,300 pounds thrust, it can accommodate six passengers and two pilots with a range of 1,400 nm. Included in the luxurious cabin is a galley and an aft lavatory with a privacy door. The Premier has already established a number of world speed records, breaking existing records by as much as 200 mph. It has appeared at the Reno Air Races, flying the racecourse in one of its more notable appearances. — Robert “Hoot” Gibson

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Top 100 Airplanes

89. Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird

Kelly Johnson’s SR-71 was conceived during the 1950s as a stealthy reconnaissance ship that would fly too high and fast for enemy missiles to reach. Though limited to about 2,000 knots by aerodynamic heating, the SR-71’s speed has never been surpassed by any manned jet. Its fuselage chines, conceived as stealth aids, became an important aerodynamic feature of many later aircraft. Lightly built of titanium and stainless steel, the Blackbird was leaky, not very maneuverable, and given to cantankerous engine behavior, but it remains possibly the most fantastic-looking — and to many eyes the most beautiful — airplane ever to fly. — Peter Garrison

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Top 100 Airplanes

88. Hawker Siddeley 125

When the first Hawker Siddeley 125 prototype took flight in 1962, the aircraft became arguably the first official production business jet to take to the skies. Initially powered by twin 3,000-pound thrust Viper turbojet engines, the revolutionary aircraft was slightly slower than its competitors, but more than made up for it in cabin comfort and economy. Those attributes helped lay the foundation for one of the most top-selling bizjet lines in history. The Hawker line survives four decades later, as new production aircraft roll off Hawker Beechcraft’s Wichita assembly lines with an airframe based on the 125 in a testament to the jet’s brilliant original design.

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Top 100 Airplanes

Top 100 Airplanes

87. Bleriot XI

In 1908 Frenchman Louis Bleriot designed the mono-wing Bleriot XI — a wood and fabric design steerable by wing warping. Powered by a 25 hp Anzani engine spinning a wooden propeller, the airplane carried Bleriot across the English Channel in a little more than 36 minutes on July 25, 1909, becoming the first airplane to complete the crossing. The popularity of the airplane, gleaned from the historic flight, inspired Bleriot to mass-produce it. Many famous aviation pioneers flew the Bleriot XI including Clyde Cessna, whose first airplane was a near twin of the Bleriot XI.

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Top 100 Airplanes

86. Piper Aztec

An outgrowth of the lower-powered and much maligned Piper Apache (which was actually inspired by a Stinson design), the Piper Aztec, introduced in 1958, was an immediate hit with pilots looking for a tough and capable twin that flew great. With a pair of six-cylinder Lycoming engines each putting out 250 horses, the Aztec wasn’t fast. But it could carry a great load and operate out of rough strips. With fuel-injected (1960 and later) and, later, turbocharged models, the six-place Aztec was in production for a quarter of a century with nearly 8,000 examples produced over that time.

"My favorite airplane is the Piper Aztec. The Aztec has enabled Sandy and me to visit many wonderful places not available to the airlines or faster aircraft. We’ve been to the East Coast, West Coast, Gulf Coast, Caribbean, Canada, Mexico and South America. The best times were in the Caribbean, island hopping and making reservations on 122.8. Montserrat was the island of choice until the volcano blew. It’s easy to fly, carries a lot of weight and still goes 200 miles an hour. You can buy one for almost nothing, hang new engines, add radios, interior and a paint job and you have a fine piece of equipment for under $300,000."Hal Shevers

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Top 100 Airplanes

85. Voyager

Great aviators don’t care that their dream project appears impossible. And though a round-the-world flight on one tank of gas appears unimaginable, Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager made it happen in 1986. The airplane that made the concept a reality was the Voyager — a minimalistic but aerodynamically efficient carbon fiber airframe designed by Dick’s brother, engineering legend Burt Rutan. The Voyager carried 7,011.5 pounds of fuel when it began its takeoff roll from Edwards Air Force Base, and it was barely able to evade disaster when the weight-laden wingtips sent sparks flying as they scraped the tarmac. After a little more than nine days, Rutan and Yeager completed their historic mission and landed the Voyager safely back at Edwards.
Peter Garrison

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Top 100 Airplanes

84. Dassault Falcon 7X

The Dassault Falcon 7X holds many notable distinctions, two of the most important being its status as the first fully fly-by-wire business jet and as the first to be designed entirely on the Catia virtual platform. The resulting airplane is Dassault’s flagship model, combining three engines (a hallmark of the French airframer) with a high cruise speed, nearly 6,000 nm range and a roomy cabin. Unveiled to the public at the 2005 Paris Air Show, the model gained FAA and EASA type certification in 2007. More than 150 have been built to date.

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Top 100 Airplanes

83. TBM 700/850

Originally a co-development product between Mooney and French company and current owner Socata (based in Tarbes, France), the TBM-700 was a new kind of airplane when it was introduced in the late 1980s and certified in 1990. The single-turboprop, pressurized speedster featured a compact-but-luxurious cabin for four and boasted speeds of around 300 knots with a range exceeding 1,500 nm. Over the years the airplane has gotten nothing but better, with true airspeeds of better than 320 knots on its higher-horsepower Pratt engine, additional gross weight, flat-panel avionics and updated interior. More than 500 TBMs have been delivered.

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Top 100 Airplanes

82. Taylorcraft

Built in the 1930s as a platform for spreading aviation to the masses, the Taylorcraft emerged as a safe, light flier capable of outpacing the Cub and the Champ. While the aircraft’s side-by-side seating made for a tight cockpit and limited visibility, its expansive wings and clean design gave it great get-up-and-go as well as stellar gliding characteristics. The aircraft’s heightened sensitivity to pilot inputs has acutely sharpened the flying skills of many more than just a handful of individuals over the years, staking a claim for the T’craft near the top of the list of great post-World War II tube-and-rag taildraggers.

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Top 100 Airplanes

81. Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor

Since the F-22 emerged in 2005, this fifth-generation fighter has combined cutting-edge stealth technology with supersonic cruise capability and superb air combat maneuverability unmatched by any fighter in the world. Powered by 35,000 pounds of thrust per engine, the single-pilot aircraft is able to reach speeds beyond Mach 2.0 with the use of afterburners and speeds above Mach 1.5 without them. The aircraft’s stealth technology gives it a radar signature the size of a steel marble, while the jet’s sensor fusion offers its pilots better situational awareness than ever. High development costs and operational glitches have plagued the Raptor but haven’t prevented the jet from staking its claim as the most advanced tactical fighter on the planet.

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Top 100 Airplanes

80. Cessna 208 Caravan

With the carrying capability of the Caravan, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that FedEx contributed ideas to the design. Since dispatch reliability was also of primary concern for the small-package shipping giant, the 208 was equipped with a tried-and-true Pratt & Whitney PT6 turboprop engine producing 600 hp (later upgraded to 675 hp). But versatility is probably the word that describes the Caravan best. The airplane can be equipped with a cargo pod and multiple types of landing gear, including bush tires, amphibs and skis. Excellent STOL capabilities allow this reasonably large airplane to get in and out of tight backcountry airstrips.

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Top 100 Airplanes

79. Airbus A320

A pioneer of fly-by-wire flight controls and sidesticks, the Airbus A320 family, when it was introduced into service in 1988, represented an enormous technological leap for a company that was then still a distant competitor to Boeing. Fast-forward to today, and the airplane has earned a spot as one of the best-selling airliners of all time, with production numbers approaching the 5,000 mark. Design of the A320 actually began much earlier, in 1981, and was envisioned as a modern design that would outperform the Boeing 737. Today, Airbus is a strong competitor to Boeing, producing an entire line of FBW airliners.

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Top 100 Airplanes

78. Decathlon

The tailwheel Decathlon is a study in perseverance. The airplane traces its roots back to the Aeronca Champ, by way of the aerobatic-minded American Champion Citabria. In fact, American Champion developed the Decathlon as a better Citabria. The airplane entered production in 1970, but the company was immediately sold to Bellanca. Bellanca built the airplane and the follow-on Super Decathlon until it went belly up in 1981. The Decathlon design passed through the hands of several companies until in 1988 it ended up in the hands of a new company: American Champion Aircraft Corp., which also acquired the Champ, Citabria and Scout designs. The Super Decathlon and other models are being produced to this day at the American Champion factory in Rochester, Wisconsin.

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Top 100 Airplanes

77. Beechcraft Starship

The brainchild of legendary aircraft designer Burt Rutan, the Beechcraft Starship was a radical departure from conventional designs, starting fresh with many untried concepts. Featuring twin-pusher turboprop engines, canard configuration and composite construction, the Starship was well ahead of its time when Beechcraft contracted with Rutan’s Scaled Composites in 1981 to build an 85-percent-scale proof of concept. That project culminated with the flight of the first production Starship in 1989. Despite excellent performance, in the end, only 53 Starships were built. Beechcraft blamed slow sales of the model on a down economy and the airplane’s unconventional looks. In 2003, Beech began buying back Starships and cutting them up. Only five privately owned Starships remain today.

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Top 100 Airplanes

76. Robinson R22

After working for several helicopter manufacturers, including Cessna (yes, Cessna did sell a helicopter — the Skyhook), Bell and Hughes, Frank Robinson saw an opportunity to launch his own light design. After six years of development, Robinson Helicopters introduced the R22, which received FAA certification in 1979. With a reasonable purchase price and low operating cost, the two-seat, two-blade design became a huge success, enabling Robinson to expand his company’s product offering. Thirty-two years after the R22 was introduced, more than 10,000 Robinson helicopters have been delivered out of the ever-expanding factory in Torrance, California.

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Top 100 Airplanes

75. F-16

An engineering marvel, the F-16 Fighting Falcon can fly at Mach 2 speeds above 50,000 feet while being able to withstand 9 Gs. The fly-by-wire control system is activated by a sidestick and enables F-16 pilots to turn the airplane on a dime. Its capabilities as an air-to-air fighter as well as an air-to-surface attack platform have made it a favorite among Air Force squadrons worldwide. Since its first introduction in 1979, Lockheed Martin has delivered thousands of F16s of various models. Regardless of the configuration, the loud roar of the single F-16 engine emanates fear in the enemy and excitement in airshow spectators.

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Top 100 Airplanes

74. Gossamer Albatross

Designed by aeronautical engineer Paul MacCready, the Gossamer Albatross was a human-powered airplane that in 1979 made the first human-powered flight across the English Channel. Piloted by cyclist Bryan Allen, the Albatross made the trip in two hours and 49 minutes, winning the Kremer Prize. Two years earlier, MacCready won a prize for the first human-powered aircraft, the Gossamer Condor. The Albatross was even more ambitious. Constructed of carbon fiber with a strong yet light Mylar covering and a wingspan of nearly 100 feet, the canard-configuration Albatross brought to the attention of the world the work of forward-thinking aircraft designers and opened people’s eyes to the wide-open future of flight.

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100 Top Airplanes

73. Gulfstream 1

Designed in the mid-1950s, the Gulfstream 1 was the first twin turboprop designed specifically for corporate travel. The aircraft had a range of 2,200 miles, room for 12 passengers and maxed out at a speed of 350 mph at 25,000 feet. A product of Grumman Aircraft Engineering Co., the aircraft’s name hails from the coast of Florida, a favored vacation locale for Grumman execs. Loved by crew and passengers alike, the Gulfstream 1 enjoyed success that ushered in a new era of business travel and set the groundwork for one of the most successful lines of business jets in aviation history.

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Courtesy of Andrew Compolo

Top 100 Airplanes

72. Lockheed P-38 Lightning

The P-38 Lightning was one of only two American fighters in service throughout all of U.S. involvement in World War II, from Pearl Harbor to V-J Day. The airplane employed distinctive twin-boom tails, earning it the nickname “fork-tailed devil” by the Luftwaffe. The P-38 scored its biggest victories in the Pacific and was the primary long-range fighter of the Army Air Forces until the P-51 Mustang started arriving in large numbers toward the end of the war. Designed by Lockheed engineer Clarence “Kelly” Johnson and his team, the P-38 represented one of the most radical departures in the history of American fighter development. The Lightning was a complete breakaway from conventional designs, yet its odd looks yielded the power of two engines and, at long last, the ability to carry heavy armament.

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Top 100 Airplanes

71. Vari-Eze

The tsunami of orders for Jim Bede’s BD-5 inspired a then-unknown Burt Rutan to design his own mass-market homebuilt with sexy looks, great performance, a cheap engine and two seats rather than one. Neither the swept-wing canard configuration, nor the fiberglass-over-foam construction, nor the use of slightly converted Volkswagen engines was unprecedented. But when Rutan put it together and it did 170 knots, the world took notice. The VariEze and its larger successor, the Long-EZ, were built in the thousands and hold many records. More important, they made Burt Rutan, the most innovative designer of his time, a household name. — Peter Garrison

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Top 100 Airplanes

70. Bombardier Challenger

Originally produced by Canadair in the late 1970s, the Bombardier Challenger introduced a number of cutting-edge innovations into the world of corporate air travel. In addition to its wide and roomy cabin, which brought spaciousness to a bizjet like never before, the aircraft was also one of the earliest to employ the low-drag supercritical wing. With a deadly prototype crash and initial weight limitations, the Bombardier Challenger got off to a rocky start, but persevered to emerge as the bedrock of one of the most thriving lines of corporate jets in aviation history.

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Top 100 Airplanes

69. Extra 300

The brainchild of modern composite guru Walter Extra, the Extra 300 burst onto the scene in the early 1990s as the ultimate competitive aerobat. A certificated or experimental airplane, the 300 was incredibly quick, nimble and strong (certified to plus/minus 10 Gs but thought much stronger), allowing competitors to do maneuvers no one had done before. It was a huge force in aerobatic competition, pushing the state of the art to new heights. Flown by aerobatics legend Patty Wagstaff in airshows and competitions far and wide and popularized in Microsoft’s Flight Simulator, the 300 also became the embodiment of the aerobatic monoplane.

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Top 100 Airplanes

68. BAE Harrier

As the first successful strike fighter able to perform vertical landings, the BAE Harrier jet built upon the successes of its first generation predecessor and brought a slew of revolutionary capabilities to the forefront of Western air defense. The aircraft was a product of both American and British innovation and, like earlier Harrier jets, relied on thrust vectoring technology for its wide range of vertical and horizontal maneuverability. With that maneuverability, a more powerful engine, an airframe composed substantially of composites and more payload capacity, the BAE Harrier emerged as a multidimensional and very capable strike fighter.

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Top 100 Airplanes

67. Hindenburg

At just 78 feet shorter than the Titanic, the Hindenburg remains the largest aircraft ever to take to the air more than seven decades after its maiden flight in 1936. Built on the success of its predecessor, the Graf Zeppelin, the Hindenburg was equipped to hold more than 7 million cubic feet of hydrogen and could produce 242.2 tons of gross lift, an amount 112 tons greater than its own weight. While the Hindenburg was originally designed to use helium, the United States refused to yield its monopoly on the substance to Nazi Germany, resulting in a recrafting of the zeppelin for hydrogen. The aircraft carried more than 2,500 passengers across the Atlantic before it burst into flames while landing in Lakehurst, New Jersey, in 1937, killing 36 people and attracting enough press attention to end the burgeoning era of passenger airship travel.

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Top 100 Airplanes

66. Canadair CRJ

The Challenger business jet heritage is evident when looking at the pointy nose and wide fuselage of Bombardier’s Canadair Regional Jet. With several variants offering seating capacities between 40 and 100 passengers, the CRJ line quickly became a favorite among regional airlines around the world after its introduction in 1992. The twin-engine jet design enabled not only quick and economical short hops, but also cost-efficient midrange flights previously serviced only by heavier aircraft, such as the Boeing 737, often flying with many empty seats. In addition to increasing load factors, the CRJs helped the airlines increase their route offerings significantly. More than 1,600 CRJs have been delivered to date.

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Top 100 Airplanes

65. Bell X-1

The Bell X-1 holds a place in aviation history as the first airplane to fly faster than the speed of sound in controlled level flight. The X-1 was also the first airplane in the X series of super-secret U.S. military experimental aircraft designed to test cutting-edge technologies. On Oct. 14, 1947, just a month after the Air Force had been created as a separate service, Capt. Charles “Chuck” Yeager broke the speed of sound in the rocket-powered Bell X-1 christened Glamorous Glennis, after his wife. The milestone earned the X-1 program the 1948 Collier Trophy and made its young test pilot a household name.

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Top 100 Airplanes

64. Cessna 185

When Cessna released the 185 Skywagon back in 1961, the company hit the sweet spot of payload, capacity, speed, economy and backcountry fun. Decades after going out of production, the Cessna 185 is still hailed by bush pilots in Alaska (and elsewhere) as one of their most popular workhorses. Whether on skis, floats or wheels, the 185 can get you, your friends and your gear in and out of most remote places. And its reliability is likely to get you out as well, as long as you know how to wrestle a tailwheel airplane with a 260 hp Continental up front.

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Top 100 Airplanes

63. Beech Baron

Beechcraft hit the jackpot in the early 1960s with the Baron, a sleek swept-tail personal twin derived from the somewhat clunky looking Travel Air and straight-tail Debonair single. Unlike Beech’s previous twins, the Baron captured the magic of the Bonanza. It was fast, easy to fly, comfortable and could haul a decent load. In the day of cheap avgas and twin-engine prestige, the Baron was king. Over the 50-plus years of Barons, Beech churned out thousands, from the original model 55, with 260 hp Continentals, to turbocharged and pressurized models to today’s million-dollar-plus flat-panel equipped G58 Baron.

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Top 100 Airplanes

62. Citation X

Until Gulfstream achieves full certification and starts delivering its G650, Cessna’s Citation X can still claim its spot as the fastest civil airplane in the sky. With its Fadec-controlled Rolls-Royce AE3007C1 engines, which are about the size of some single-engine airplane fuselages and each produce 6,674 pounds of thrust at sea level, the airplane can cruise near the speed of sound at Mach 0.92. The Citation X earned Cessna the Collier Trophy when it was introduced in 1996. In 2010, Cessna felt the popular business jet needed a face-lift and announced a slightly larger version, simply called “The Ten,” which is expected to hit the market in 2013 with a Garmin G5000 touch screen panel in place of the X’s Primus 2000 Elite and lots of other upgrades.

"To say that I am not somewhat biased regarding the Citation X would be an understatement. I recommended to my friends at Cessna a few requirements that I wanted to see in a corporate jet prior to the Citation X. My main points were that it should have these key attributes: speed, range and a large cabin size. I had the honor of taking delivery of the first production Citation X in August 1996, and am delighted to say that it has been everything I envisioned. Fifteen-plus years later, we are still flying a Citation X (I traded in for a new one in 2002) and I could not be more pleased. It is reliable and still the fastest bird out there, looks great, and deserves to be ranked among the greatest airplanes of all time." — Arnold Palmer

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Top 100 Airplanes

61. Piaggio P.180 Avanti

The P.180 Avanti twin-pusher turboprop started as a collaboration between Piaggio of Italy and Learjet to design and produce a sleek, modern turboprop capable of taking on the Beech King Air and even business jets. Learjet dropped out of the program in early 1986, but Piaggio forged ahead, flying the prototype nine months later. Although U.S. and European certification was obtained in 1990, the project languished for the next eight years due to funding woes and, probably, buyer apprehension over the Avanti’s odd looks. In 1998, a group of investors led by Piero Ferrari became involved. By then the Avanti had proved its capabilities, and sales soon followed. In 2005 the improved Avanti II earned its certification and, with its updated PT6s and modern Rockwell Collins avionics, was an immediate hit. Piaggio has produced more than 200, and sales have stayed strong.

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Top 100 Airplanes

60. Lockheed U-2

Designed and developed in secrecy in the 1950s, this high-flying reconnaissance aircraft was not revealed to the public until one was shot down over Soviet territory in 1960. The Lockheed U-2, also known as the Dragon Lady, would go on to play a key role in Cold War surveillance missions for decades to come, while also serving in the Vietnam War and as a NASA research platform. With its light airframe and sailplane-like wings, the Lockheed U-2’s design suited its purpose well, enabling it to achieve altitudes at least up to 70,000 feet. Those same characteristics, however, made the U-2 notoriously difficult to fly, with minimal room for error between the max and stall speeds as well as landing characteristics that required the assistance of a chase car to help guide the aircraft to the ground.

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Top 100 Airplanes

59. De Havilland DHC-2 Beaver

The de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver is an airplane worshipped by bush pilots and rightfully so. As big as the Beaver is, with room for up to seven passengers, it requires only light control input and the three engine control levers in the center of the glareshield give the airplane a unique look and feel. The airplane’s rugged tailwheel design and ability to haul a heavy load make it impossible to beat in the backcountry. The sound of the Beaver’s nine-cylinder Pratt & Whitney and the beautiful shape of the fuselage put a smile on the face of anyone who loves airplanes.

"If I could have only one airplane, I’d keep my de Havilland Beaver. Mine’s on gear, a great backcountry airplane. Prime, wobble-pump, start … a puff of smoke and the rumble of that 985 make you feel you’ve woken a dragon. In the air she’s balanced, light on the controls. Trimmed up, you can fly with two fingers. Right hand up on the throttle, prop and mix. Feel how the thumb advances the engine and the index finger hooks over the prop lever to bring it back — perfect. Pump down the flaps, slow up and put her just about anywhere. A pilot’s dream."Harrison Ford

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Top 100 Airplanes

58. Embraer Phenom 100

While Embraer had been building private-jet versions of a couple of its successful regional airliners for a few years, it wasn’t until it launched the Phenom 100 that it committed to a purpose-built bizjet. The twinjet hits a sweet spot among private buyers and air-taxi firms seeking a lower-priced business jet with a usable cabin size (up to six passengers) and reasonably fast speed (390 knots) with decent range (1,176 nm) while doing it with an airline quality build. In addition to its remarkable entry-level performance, the Phenom 100 features large flat-panel avionics, fadec turbofans and operating economies that rival some turboprop twins.

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Top 100 Airplanes

57. Cessna 195

First delivered in 1947, the stately five-place, all-metal Cessna 195 radial-engine taildragger was new in some ways but outdated in others — its big radial engine and conventional gear were 1930s technology. It was a relaxing airplane to fly, but with its heavy radial engine, it was a thrilling one to land in a crosswind. Some models featured a crosswind gear, which would allow the airplane to be pointed in one direction and the gear in another. In the end, the 195 could never compete with the truly modern Beech Bonanza (with tricycle gear and an opposed engine) and Cessna ended production of the 195 in 1954.

"The Cessna 195 is one of the finest classics ever built by any manufacturer. Most people identify with the art deco styling of this plane, built between 1947 and 1954. The graceful cantilever wing, large roomy fuselage, radial engine and piano key switches are just some of the details that set this incredible machine apart from the rest. The 195 was the evolution of the original Cessna Airmaster and became known as the “Businessliner” thanks to its wonderful performance. The useful load, low fuel consumption, great handling characteristics and relatively high cruising speed set it apart in its day. Today it is still a very reliable, sought after classic. Just listen to one start up on the ramp and you will understand!"Jack Pelton

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Top 100 Airplanes

56. Falcon 50

This is the airplane that started the Dassault tradition of three-engine business jets. Introduced in the 1970s, the Falcon 50 was an immediate hit with pilots and buyers alike, offering a winning combination of excellent range, great runway performance, a spacious cabin and an attractive form. The three-engine configuration gave the model better hot-and-high performance and presented pilots with more options when flying long oceanic routes. Dassault produced the model for more than 20 years, replacing the original with the Falcon 50EX, which boasted more powerful engines and upgraded avionics. Successors to the prototypical three-engine Falcon 50 configuration are the equally popular Falcon 900 and 7X models.

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Top 100 Airplanes

55. Boeing 747

With a tail the height of a six-story building and a wing area bigger than a basketball court, the Boeing 747 truly earned its keep as the world’s first jumbo jet. Despite the aircraft’s whopping 735,000-pound weight, the 747-100’s four P&W JT9D-3 engines each provided 43,000 pounds of thrust, allowing the aircraft to achieve a range of 6,000 miles and a cruising speed of 640 mph. Initially flown by Pan Am in 1970, the 747 held the top spot in terms of passenger capacity for nearly 40 years, with later models capable of carrying up to 550 people on a given flight. In addition to logging enough miles to fly to the moon and back more than 100,000 times, the 747 has also served as the Air Force One aircraft of choice in a modified version for more than two decades and as a carrier for NASA’s space shuttle fleet.

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Top 100 Airplanes

54. Staggerwing Beechcraft

With a look at once arresting, sleek and classic, the Beechcraft Staggerwing endures today as one of the most aesthetically pleasing aircraft of all time. That allure didn’t come at the cost of power either, since the aircraft’s unique wing alignment, mighty radial engine and retractable landing gear allow it to top out at speeds above 200 mph without the threat of high stall values. Designed amid the Great Depression and considered a risky venture by some, the Staggerwing went on to become the premier aircraft for the elite, a celebrated air racer and versatile warbird. The airplane, each model handcrafted to perfection, would also set the standard for one of the most successful manufacturers in GA history.

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Top 100 Airplanes

53. Bell/Boeing V-22 Osprey

The V-22 tiltrotor is perhaps the first aircraft that went into a museum before it entered service. Originated in 1981 and followed by first flight in 1989, the V-22 wasn’t introduced to the Marine Corps or Air Force until 2007 and 2009, respectively. From the start, the V-22 was beset by setbacks, including crashes of two prototypes in the early 1990s that almost led to the program’s cancellation. The Clinton Administration was a strong backer of the tiltrotor concept, keeping the Bell/Boeing joint program alive. Today the V-22 is in full-rate production and is serving admirably as a replacement for the Sea Knight helicopter troop transport.

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Top 100 Airplanes

52. Piper Arrow

First introduced in 1967, the Piper Arrow emerged as a great training platform for pilots looking to get their feet wet in a complex single-engine aircraft. While not as fast as some of its contemporaries, the Arrow provided the familiarity and forgiving nature of the Piper line with a level of affordability within reach of more pilots. Equipped with a 200 hp Lycoming engine, a range of 880 nm and a fuel capacity of 72 gallons, the four-seat Arrow remains in limited production today and endures as a great airplane for advanced student pilots and cross-country travelers alike.

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Top 100 Airplanes

51. Supermarine Spitfire

Proudly remembered as the aircraft that helped save the United Kingdom during the Battle of Britain, the Supermarine Spitfire has gained iconic status as one of the most famous fighters of all time. The aircraft’s signature elliptical wings and sleek aerodynamic design gave it exceptional speed and maneuverability, which, combined with the fighter’s eight machine guns, made the Spitfire a formidable foe. First introduced in 1938, the Spitfire was continually improved and upgraded throughout the war. The fighter would go on to become the most-produced British aircraft of World War II and would eventually serve the country and its Allies in numbers greater than 20,000.

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Top 100 Airplanes

50. Lockheed Constellation

The legendary Connie has to be one of the prettiest airplanes ever conceived. With its sinuously curving fuselage, triple tail and tapered wing, it is instantly recognizable. In 1939, TWA and Hughes asked Lockheed for a 40-passenger transcontinental airliner with a top speed of more than 340 mph, and the designers delivered. It wasn’t until after World War II that the Constellation truly came into its own as a fast, long-haul transport (this despite a number of high-profile crashes that temporarily grounded the fleet). Lockheed built more than 850, with the Connie and later the Super Connie ruling the skies until the introduction of turbojet airliners in the 1950s.

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Top 100 Airplanes

49. Cessna Cardinal

The Cessna Cardinal was actually intended as a replacement to the Skyhawk, but that never happened. Still, the Cardinal, with its great visibility, cantilever wing and easy-entry doors, did take an important place in the Cessna pantheon not only as arguably the most beautiful Cessna ever but as a solid and reliable mid-performance personal and family airplane as well. Early on it got better handling, more power, better speed and a constant-speed prop. Cessna even built an RG model, two of which were owned at various points by Flying alums Tom Benenson and Richard Collins. Between 1968 and 1978, more than 1,500 Cardinals were delivered.

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Top 100 Airplanes

48. Aeronca Champ

With its maiden flight in 1944, the Aeronca Champ emerged as an attractive training alternative in a world dominated by the Piper Cub. Complete with a wider cabin, the ability to solo in the front seat and user-friendly controls, the tandem trainer offered a roomy alternative to the Piper Cub, one that had the upper hand not only when it came to visibility, but also, many of its proponents will argue, in human engineering. While the Champ didn’t gain the kind of lasting prestige acquired by its Piper competitor, it nevertheless amassed its own substantial group of devoted admirers and was produced in numbers surpassing 10,000.

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Top 100 Airplanes

47. Concorde

Probably the most ambitious civil aviation project ever, Concorde gave space age dreamers a Mach 2, 60,000-foot ceiling, delta-wing jetliner that somehow overcame the economic and environmental realities of building and operating supersonic transports to enjoy a 25-year flying career. The engineering challenges — the heat of Mach 2.02 cruise, the fuel-hungry turbojet engines, the high loads at very high speed, the forces on the landing gear on rotation and the lack of visibility on landing — were all ingeniously overcome. The sole crash of the type, at Paris in 2000, sounded the death knell for the world's only supersonic transport. Concorde made its last flight in 2003.

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Top 100 Airplanes

46. CitationJet

When Cessna introduced the model 525 CitationJet in the early 1990s, it was an attempt by the company to get back to its roots as makers of the ultimate entry-level bizjet. The new jet, known affectionately as the “CJ,” was a single-pilot-friendly jet sized right and powered with new Williams turbofan engines. It would go on not only to great sales success, with many hundreds sold, but to spawn an entire lineup of light jets up to the 450-knot, 2,000-mile-range CJ4. Today, the spirit of the CJ lives on in the form of Cessna’s new M2, with flat-panel displays, 400-knot performance and high-end interior appointments.

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100 Top Airplanes

45. Boeing B-17

A beloved American icon, the B-17 Flying Fortress remains one of the most celebrated warbirds in U.S. history. The 65,000-pound four-engine bomber came equipped with 11 to 13 machine guns and a 9,600-pound bomb payload, characteristics that gave it the military might worthy of its name. The airplane was launched in the 1930s and built using principles borrowed from both the Boeing XB-15 and the Model 247. A vital component of the Allied offensive in Europe, B-17s dropped more than half a million tons of bombs on Germany during World War II, and in the process earned a widespread reputation for their ability to withstand severe damage during combat.

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Top 100 Airplanes

44. Piper Cherokee Six

A stretched Cherokee was an idea that came early to the folks in Vero Beach, Florida, and the result, the PA-32 Cherokee Six, was a huge hit. Piper built nearly 8,000 PA-32s, the early models of which feature the classic Piper Hershey Bar wing. The Six is a marvelous family airplane, with seating for six that outdoes its rivals’ in size, space and comfort. Not fast, at around 140 knots for the fixed-gear, 300 hp model, the Six makes up for it with a prodigious useful load and easy Cherokee flyability. There are several flavors of PA-32, including a retractable model, at first known as the Lance, as well as turbocharged versions.

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Top 100 Airplanes

43. Cessna Mustang

When the very light jet (VLJ) craze of the 2000s hit, one company that played it right was Cessna, coming out with the all-new Mustang. While Cessna eschewed the VLJ label, the Mustang was sub-10,000 pounds and single-pilot, and it featured Garmin G1000 avionics, a first for a jet. The combination proved a winner, and Mustang sales were strong, especially among pilots who never thought they would find themselves in the left seat of a jet. Despite the small size, the Mustang has good speed, at 340 knots, a comfortable club-seating cabin and good NBAA IFR range, at 1,150 nm, proving that a jet that is very light can still be very capable.

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Top 100 Airplanes

42. Vought F4U Corsair

The single-seat F4U Corsair was intended from the outset for carrier duty, ingeniously designed with its attractive “inverted gull” wing shape for extra propeller clearance and sturdy landing gear support. Yet the original Corsair, with its long engine and stiff gear, proved difficult for pilots attempting to land on carrier decks, to the point of being downright dangerous. As a result, Corsairs deployed in the early days of World War II were assigned to shore-based squadrons in the Pacific. Redesigned cockpit seat, canopy and gear solved the Corsair’s shortcomings, and the airplane went on to prove its fighting acumen in the war, achieving a kill ratio over Japanese Zeros of 11:1.

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100 Top Airplanes

41. Predator drone

The Predator drone dramatically changed the shape of 21st century combat, triggering the dawn of an age in which unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are no longer used solely as reconnaissance vehicles, but also as attack aircraft. Since the Predator’s development in the mid-1990s, the UAV has accumulated more than 1 million hours of total flight time and has played an integral role in U.S. post-9-11 strategy within the Middle East. Armed with laser-guided Hellfire missiles and remotely operated by pilot and crew, the Predator has engaged in deadly strikes within Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia and Libya, among other countries. The growing use of the Predator in modern warfare has brought sweeping implications for civilian airspace as well, accelerating the debate over the prospect of drones and unmanned aircraft sharing the skies and raising a slew of questions as police departments and other agencies begin to employ the drone for their own purposes here in the United States.

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40. Boeing 314 Clipper

The Boeing 314 Clipper, designed and built for Pan Am in the late 1930s and early ’40s, ushered in the era of transoceanic passenger flight. Built using the wings and engine nacelles of Boeing’s existing X-15 bomber prototype, the Clipper’s four 1,500 hp Wright Double Cyclone engines gave the 84,000-pound flying boat the muscle needed to complete the feat. With room for 10 crew and 74 passengers, the Boeing 314 treated those aboard to spacious dining and sleeping quarters as well as gourmet meals catered by four-star hotels, bringing luxury to commercial airline travel in a way that has never been replicated, before or since.

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39. Curtiss Model D

This early pusher, introduced just six years after the Wright brothers’ breakthrough flight, triggered the dawn of naval aviation when 24-year-old Eugene Ely used it to complete the first successful takeoff and landing on a U.S. naval vessel. Equipped with tricycle landing gear, the biplane relied on ailerons operated via shoulder movement for lateral control, instead of the Wright brothers’ wing warping technology. Built for easy assembly and disassembly, the Curtiss Pusher was the first real mass-produced airplane, as well as one of the earliest aircraft purchased by the U.S. Army, second only to the Wright Flyer. And if that weren’t enough, the aircraft also set the basis for production of the world’s first seaplane, the Curtiss Triad.

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Top 100 Airplanes

38. B-2 Stealth Bomber

Development of the Northrop B-2 bomber began in the 1970s when the Pentagon sought a replacement for the B-52. Northrop Grumman and Boeing spent more than a decade and billions of dollars developing the stealth bomber, a flying wing that uses angular faceting and other technologies to reduce its radar signature. The B-2’s radar-absorbent coating is so sensitive that the bombers must be kept in spotlessly clean hangars with precision controlled temperature and humidity. The winding down of the Cold War led Congress to slash B-2 orders from 132 to 21. A total of 20 remain in service with the U.S. Air Force after the 2008 crash of a B-2 on the runway in Guam, in which the crew safely ejected.

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Top 100 Airplanes

37. Quicksilver MX-2

The ultralight craze of the early ’80s brought flight to the masses, with (one hopes) easy-to-fly and simple-to-build airplanes so affordable that almost anyone could own one. Personifying that goal were the Eipper Quicksilver models, especially the MX line, which was for a time the most popular airplane in the world. At the height of the movement, the company was shipping hundreds of airplane kits — per month. To date, the various Quicksilver manufacturers have turned out more than 14,000 sport airplanes, the vast majority of them characterized by simple aluminum tube-and-sailcloth construction, two-stroke engines and very low speeds, stalling and otherwise, along with the highest fun-to-weight ratio in the sky.

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Top 100 Airplanes

36. Bell Jet Ranger

A champion of versatility and reliability, no other helicopter has dominated the light turbine-powered sector over the past 40 years like the revered Bell Jet Ranger. The original Jet Ranger of the mid-1960s took shape as an outgrowth of a failed Army contract bid and featured seating for five, a two-blade motor rotor, a single Allison 250 turboshaft engine and room for 250 pounds of baggage to boot. The clean design was an immediate success in both the civilian and military world, and would carry the Jet Ranger into an undeniably expansive range of roles that have included everything from executive transport to aerial photography to emergency medical missions. While Jet Ranger production and deliveries officially wrapped up in 2010, the aircraft’s accessibility, robust safety record and flexible nature are sure to perpetuate its appeal well into the future.

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Top 100 Airplanes

35. Piper Malibu

The Piper PA-46 Malibu is the sole in-production example of a pressurized owner-flown piston single. When it came out in the early 1980s, it was a 200-plus-knot cruiser with a comfortable club-seating cabin in back while boasting a ceiling of 25,000 feet and a range of more than 1,500 nm. In the late ’80s, the airplane got a new, more powerful Lycoming engine and other improvements. That model, the Mirage, continues to be a good seller for Piper. Indeed, the airplane inspired a series of new designs, including the Malibu Meridian, a popular turboprop derivative of the Malibu, and the Matrix, a non-pressurized piston offshoot.

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Top 100 Airplanes

34. Boeing B-52

Initially designed as a high-altitude strategic bomber in the 1940s, the Boeing B-52 has endured decades of changing threats and demands, remaining in operational use for more than 50 years. With a range of more than 10,000 miles, a ceiling greater than 50,000 feet and a bomb payload of approximately 70,000 pounds, the B-52 was built to be a bastion of deterrence during the Cold War, but adapted over time to accommodate a variety of other roles, including low-altitude bombing, reconnaissance and combat support, just to name a few. During its lengthy history, the eight-engine, swept-wing aircraft has shattered more than a handful of speed and range records, and remains a key player in contemporary U.S. military operations.

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Top 100 Airplanes

33. Ford Tri-Motor

Designed and built in the mid-1920s, the Tri-Motor immediately carried the respect and trust endowed by the Ford name, as well as the strength and durability needed to substantiate it. Initially equipped with three 200 hp Wright J4 radial engines and later with more robust Pratt & Whitney Wasps, the all-metal aircraft helped grow the public’s faith in safe air travel and quickly became America’s most popular airline transport platform. As its use in that arena died down, it proved its worth and resilience in a variety of other uses, such as cargo and military transport, for years to come.

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Top 100 Airplanes

32. Cessna 210/P210

The company’s apex single for 25 years, the 210 Centurion was one of the most popular high-performance singles ever. Cessna built more than 9,000 of them between 1960 and 1986, a total composed of more than two dozen different varieties, including popular turbocharged and pressurized models. Over its lifespan the high-performance, retractable gear 210 got new wing designs, new cabin layouts (with four to six seats) and a variety of engine options. Despite its many different faces, at heart the 210 is a fast airplane that carries a great load while being rugged and reliable. No wonder its owners remain staunchly loyal to the type.

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Top 100 Airplanes

31. Messerschmitt Bf.109

First introduced in the mid-1930s, what was to become the predominant German fighter in World War II initially struggled to gain governmental support. With an aerodynamically superior, low-wing design and an original max speed of 290 mph, however, the all-metal Messerschmitt Bf 109 eventually won over its skeptics. Retractable landing gear, a narrow fuselage and an enclosed canopy were just some of the combined design features that gave the stressed-skin fighter its edge. While the Fw 190 that entered the war scene in 1941 surpassed it in performance, the mass production of the Bf 109 — more than 30,000 were manufactured by the end of the war — cemented its reign as the most famous German fighter of World War II.

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100 Top Airplanes

30. Cessna 310

Easily identified by the large wingtip “tuna tanks,” the Cessna 310 became an instant hit when it entered the growing light twin market in 1954. With two 240 hp Continental O-470-B engines, the original 310 delivered good climb performance, even with one engine, an 800 nm range and cruise speeds in the neighborhood of 180 knots. The design was so successful that, by 1955, the Cessna factory in Wichita was cranking out about 20 310s each month. And the airplane obtained legendary status when the TV series Sky King replaced its Cessna T-50 “Bamboo Bomber” and made a 310B the new Songbird.

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29. Boeing B-29

The largest and most advanced bomber of its day, Boeing’s B-29 Superfortress brought a variety of new technologies into the grasp of American forces during World War II. With a gross weight that would eventually total 140,000 pounds, the heavy bomber boasted a 20,000-pound bomb load, a top speed of 365 mph and a range of almost 6,000 miles. In addition to its superior performance specs, the Superfortress was the first to offer its crew members pressurized compartments, as well as remote-controlled gun turrets. The B-29’s most lasting legacy, of course, was its nuclear capability — a power implemented during the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, events abruptly followed by the Japanese surrender.

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Top 100 Airplanes

28. Mooney 201

Mooney hit a major milestone when it introduced the M20J in 1977. The airplane had a top speed of 201 mph with a 200 hp Lycoming IO-360 engine. To highlight this achievement, Mooney’s marketing department called the airplane the Mooney 201. The marketing paid off and sales skyrocketed. The 201 had the same stretched fuselage as its predecessor, the M20F, but the cowl, windshield and gear door redesign as well as drag-reducing gap seals and fairings brought the airplane huge speed gains. Even with today’s advanced composite fuselage technology, it’s hard to find an airplane that achieves the same level of performance and economy. Still, Mooney discontinued production of the 201 in 1998, opting instead to focus on faster, more powerful models.

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27. RV-3

You might forget your first kiss, your first love or possibly even your first name, but you’ll never forget your first flight in an RV-3! Richard VanGrunsven’s first commercial design may well be his best. Originally designed in the late ’60s, kits first became available by 1974. With a fully cantilevered wing and tail, the RV-3 set a new standard for performance in homebuilt aircraft and for ease of building. More than 250 RV-3s have been built and flown, and its flight characteristics are still the gold standard for light aircraft. The only drawback of the RV-3: It has only one seat. — Bruce Bohannon, world-record setter

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26. Messerschmitt Me 262

One of the greatest fears of the Allied World War II Air Force pilots, the twin engine Me 262 was the first operational jet-powered fighter airplane, introduced by the German Luftwaffe. First flight was completed in 1942 after initial testing of the airframe with a single propeller engine mounted up front, but the airplane didn’t see action until 1944. The early Junkers Juno 004 jet engines, which were each nearly the size of the Me 262’s fuselage, were notoriously unreliable. Nonetheless, good speed and climb performance made the Me 262 a successful fighter, and its introduction marked the beginning of the end for piston-engine fighter airplanes.

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25. Kitfox

In the early 1980s simplified-construction homebuilt airplane kits became all the rage, and the king of the emerging segment was Dan Denney’s Kitfox. The little two-place, side-by-side model was the hottest homebuilt going. At one point Denney Aircraft was turning out more than 50 Kitfox kits a month. Over the years, there have been nearly 5,000 kits for Kitfox aircraft shipped. In addition to the round cowl, the Kitfox also had flaperons, detached trailing-edge devices that serve as ailerons and/or flaps. Though nearly 5,000 kits have been delivered, how many have actually flown is harder to ascertain.

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Top 100 Airplanes

24. Pitts Special

With a design that looks like it could be hung from a rearview mirror, the Pitts Special was not designed for stability. But its short wings and relatively large rudder make it an excellent aerobatic airplane. Curtis Pitts was way ahead of his time when he designed the airplane in the mid-1940s. Aerobatic performer Betty Skelton made the airplane famous, competing in Lil’ Stinker — the second Pitts S1 one-place airplane built by Curtis Pitts, now on display at the Smithsonian. Since Skelton’s days, the Pitts Special has won many aerobatics competitions and is still widely used in airshows today. The Pitts S1 and its two-seat brother, the S2, are still produced by Aviat Aircraft in Afton, Wyoming.

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23. Curtiss JN-4 Jenny

The Curtiss JN-4 Jenny taught a generation of early aviators to fly, starting with American military pilots in World War I. Though the airplane never saw action, 95 percent of all U.S. and Allied pilots who flew in the war learned at the controls of the various JN-4 models. After the war, thousands were sold to civilians at bargain prices and the Jenny was reborn as a barnstormer. Development of the Jenny began in 1913 when Glenn Curtiss visited Thomas Sopwith’s factory in England. Combining the best qualities of Curtiss’ early models, the J and the N, the JN series was born, culminating with the iconic JN-4 model in 1916. Because Sopwith was unable to keep up with wartime demand on his own, the Curtiss JN-4 Jenny was built by six other manufacturers, with a grand total of 10,900 produced.

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22. Cirrus SR22

The dream of brothers Alan and Dale Klapmeier, the four-place, all-composite Cirrus SR22 was a planned outgrowth of the SR20. The company prided itself on innovation, and it has delivered in spades. The airplane was the first all-composite GA bird produced in any numbers. It came with a whole-airplane recovery parachute system (WARPS), a spin-resistant wing design, a side-yoke controller, lots of room and lots of glass. Cirrus continued by being first to offer flat-panel avionics (from Avidyne), enhanced vision, envelope protection, TAWS, traffic, charts and much more. Today there are more than 5,000 Cirrus aircraft in the field.

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Top 100 Airplanes

21. North American F-86 Sabre

Brought to fruition by the makers of the widely popular P-51 Mustang, the swept-wing North American F-86 Sabre was built using design principles gleaned from German aerodynamic research obtained at the end of World War II. Those principles went on to serve the F-86 well, helping it keep hold of world speed records for six straight years, as well as earning a 10-1 victory rate over Russian MiGs in the Korean War. Since its entry into service in 1951, the F-86 and its many variants have proved their versatility in a wide variety of roles as high-altitude day fighters, fighter-bombers and all-weather interceptors. All in all, close to 10,000 F-86s were produced, with the fast-flying aircraft serving not only the United States and Canada, but also the forces of 20 other nations.

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-** Why are Wings Swept?**

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20. Stearman Biplane

Lloyd Stearman had no idea in the mid-’30s that his name would become synonymous with the word “biplane” or that his design would train the majority of the best military pilots in the world. The rugged construction, responsive flight controls and forgiving performance married to the dependable Continental 220 made the Stearman the ideal military trainer. Bill Boeing eventually bought Lloyd’s design and his company produced more than 10,000 of the two-place bi-wing beauties over a seven-plus-year period ending in 1945. Many a fledgling aviator has honed his flying skills during and since, rightfully earning the Stearman a place of honor among the noteworthy aircraft of the last century. — John “Lites” Leenhouts, president and CEO of Sun ’n Fun International Fly-In & Expo and a Stearman owner

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19. Beech T-34

First introduced in the late 1940s as a private venture of Walter Beech, the Beech T-34 Mentor served as the military trainer of choice for decades both in the United States and throughout the rest of the world. Equipped with reputably tough tricycle landing gear and the capacity to handle 10 positive and 4.5 negative Gs, the tandem seat T-34 was built with the strength and stamina needed to withstand the abuse piled on by years of training. Based on the V-tail Bonanza, the T-34’s easy handling appealed to the masses and helped produce military pilots by the thousands. With hundreds of T-34s still flying, many in the hands of civilian owners, the airplane’s lengthy heritage and smooth flying continue to attract warbird aficionados and plain old lovers of great aircraft alike.

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18. Cessna Citation I

The Citation 500 launched Cessna’s hugely successful business jet line, which today spans a whole family of airplanes based on the original type certificate as well as follow-on, clean-sheet models. FAA-certified in 1971, the original turbofan-powered Citation 500 was immediately snubbed by the aviation press for being 120 knots slower than the turbojet-powered Learjet 25, earning it the nicknames “Slowtation” and “Nearjet.” Undeterred, Cessna improved the model with a longer wingspan, increased gross weight and thrust reversers that allowed operations from shorter runways, rechristening the airplane the Citation I. Cessna improved the model yet again with a single-pilot version known as the Citation I/SP, which became an instant hit. Decades later, nobody would dare ridicule the Cessna Citation, which has earned a coveted place as one of best-selling and most-loved business jets of all time.

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17. North American AT-6

North American launched the AT-6 Texan in the late ’30s, just before America’s entry into World War II. During the war and for a short time afterward, the United States and its Allies built more than 15,000 Texans and variants. To the Air Force, it was the Texan; the Navy designated it the SNJ, and the British called it the Harvard. Regardless of its name, it proved the perfect advanced trainer: If you could fly a T-6, you could fly any fighter in the world. The Texan had a perfect match of power — the 600 hp Pratt & Whitney R-1340 — weight and control effectiveness. The Texan remains a popular warbird and airshow performer. — Norm Goyer, Texan owner and restorer

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16. Piper Cherokee

When Piper introduced its new, all-metal, low-wing airplane in the early 1960s, it caused an uproar among loyalists. Different from the Cub and offshoots as well as the later short-wing models, like the Pacer, the all-metal, tricycle-gear, low-wing Cherokee had a modern look and feel and flew great. It also set the stage for the biggest years in Piper’s history, with offshoots galore, from the Archer to the Arrow, from the Pathfinder to the Seneca, and it became a remarkably popular trainer. Still in limited production today, the PA-28 is one of the icons of light aviation.

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15. Gulfstream G650

A study in superlatives, the Gulfstream G650 sets a new standard for luxury private jet travel, combining the highest top speed of any civil jet (Mach 0.925), the longest range (7,000 nm at Mach 0.85) and the widest, tallest and longest cabin in its class. The G650 achieves such remarkable performance thanks to a sleek, aerodynamically optimized fuselage and its new Rolls-Royce BR725 turbofan engines, which provide more thrust and better fuel efficiency than previous generation engines. Despite the crash of a prototype during flight testing last year, the G650 earned its provisional type certification on schedule last fall and is slated to enter service on time this year. But if you want one, you’d better start saving now — list price is a cool $64.5 million.

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14. Cessna 150/152

Produced between 1958 and 1985, the two-seat Cessna 150/152 is one of the most significant training airplanes ever to be produced. It is essentially a tricycle-gear version of the Cessna 140 — the tricycle landing gear being more conducive to flight training. The 150/152 is inexpensive to operate. Its 100 hp Continental O-200 burns only about 6 gph (the similarly thrifty Lycoming O-235 replaced the O-200 for the 152) and simple systems make the airplane easy to maintain. More than 30,000 of the two-seat, single-engine trainers were produced, most of which rolled out of Cessna’s factory in Wichita (some were produced by Reims Aviation in France).

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13. Lockheed C-130

Named after a Greek god with superhuman strength, the C-130 Hercules participates in military combat missions worldwide but is also used for some civilian operations. A marvel in size, the C-130 is a four-engine heavy-hauler that can carry up to 42,000 pounds in and out of rough strips. Lockheed Martin delivered the first C-130s to the Air Force in the mid-1950s. With more than 2,400 delivered to date, the airplane is still in production as the improved C-130J Super Hercules, featuring technologically updated avionics, Rolls-Royce AE 2100 DE turboprop engines and composite propellers.

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12. Learjet 23

When Bill Lear extracted the DNA from an obscure Swiss project and moved the works to Wichita, Kansas, the pure turbojet Lear 23 was born, and it changed the face of aviation. Within a few years of its first delivery in 1964 the term “Learjet” became synonymous with “bizjet.” The 23 personified the James Bond era. It was sexy, fast (450 knots), an amazing climber (better than 6,000 fpm max) and long-legged, with a no-wind range of around 1,500 nm. Though just over 100 Lear 23s were built, the airplane became the basis for a long lineup of Learjets, up through the midsize Lear 60.

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11. Beechcraft King Air

Ten years after the successful Beech King Air 90 took to the skies, Beech Aircraft Corp. introduced the King Air 200 series in 1974. Powered by Pratt & Whitney’s reliable PT6, the twin-engine turboprop airplane was designed to carry eight to nine passengers. Known for its excellent carrying capacity, speed and durability, the 200 and 300 series were originally marketed as the “Super King Air” family. Beech has delivered more than 2,000 King Air 200s and another 600 Beechcraft 1900s — a model derived from the B200. It is no wonder the series is still alive after nearly four decades. The model currently in production is the King Air 250.

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10. Spirit of St. Louis

The Ryan NYP Spirit of St. Louis is a highly modified Ryan M-2 single-engine airplane made famous when Charles A. Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic in May 1927. Powered by a Wright Whirlwind J-5C engine producing 223 horsepower, the Spirit of St. Louis flew 3,610 miles in 33 hours and 30 minutes from New York to Paris, proving that flying could be a viable option for transatlantic transportation. The airplane’s fuel tanks were located in front of the cockpit, so Lindbergh had to either slip the airplane significantly or use a periscope on the left side to see ahead. Despite its fame, the airplane never went on to serial production.

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9. Space Shuttle

The Space Shuttle (first flight in 1982) must go down in history as the most revolutionary advancement in aviation ever. Flight at hypersonic speeds in an operational aircraft had never been done previously, and the Space Shuttle achieved this along with being a “space delivery truck.” Solid boosters and LOX/hydrogen engines providing 7,500,000 pounds of thrust enabled it to carry more than 30,000 pounds of cargo into orbit. The Space Shuttle was the first and only spacecraft to carry large payloads back to Earth. This remarkable vehicle performed satellite rescues and made repairs, launched the Hubble Space Telescope and helped build the International Space Station. — Robert “Hoot” Gibson

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8. Boeing 737

Sometimes the most impactful products seem the least ambitious. Such was the case with the Boeing 737, an airplane introduced into service in 1968 to be the narrow-body, twin-engine domestic workhorse to replace the aging, fuel-thirsty tri-jet 727. The “Seven-Three” would go on to become the most prolific airliner ever, with more than 7,000 delivered and nearly 3,000 more on order. Today there are numerous variants, including one with a capacity of as many as 215 passengers. Modern improvements include flat-panel avionics, winglets,and extended range. One variant, the Boeing Business Jet, comes with bedroom suites and showers.

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7. Cessna 182

Introduced shortly after the all-time sales champ, the 172 Skyhawk, the 182 Skylane, also a four-seater, is arguably a better airplane. Introduced in 1956, the Skylane hauls more, goes faster and still uses precious little runway while being marvelously simple to fly. It burns slightly more fuel than the 172, but it seems well worth it. While it shares much of the same basic design and utility, today’s 182 is a very modern airplane, with Garmin flat-screen avionics, a fuel-injected engine, airbag seat belts and synthetic vision. Its good payload, comfort and visibility have helped make the Skylane one of the best-selling singles of all time.

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6. Douglas DC-3

Greater than the sum of its parts: an apt description for an airplane that has earned the right to be called “timeless” more so than any other. First flown on Dec. 17, 1935, the Douglas DC-3, an iteration of the DC-1 and DC-2, married reliability with performance and comfort in a way no other airplane had before. The DC-3 saw service for the airlines (major and regional) and in wartime (World War II, Korea, Vietnam), hauling cargo and corporate officers alike, in every corner of the world. Hundreds still fly today, connecting us with an aviation thread that continues on. — Julie Filucci, author, Together We Fly: Voices from the DC-3

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5. Beechcraft Bonanza

When Beechcraft rolled out the Bonanza after World War II, it was defining half a century of personal aviation in the process. A four-seat, all-metal, tricycle landing gear speedster with a pretty V-tail, the Bonanza was the first really modern personal transportation airplane, and it sold like hot cakes while Beechcraft’s competitors took a decade to come out with comparable models. Not only did the Bonanza spawn a number of new singles, from the straight-tail Debonair to the still-in-production six-place A36 (now known as the G36), it also inspired the Beech Baron, the prototypical twin of the era, and the Beech T-34 Mentor, the dominant military trainer of the day.

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4. Wright Flyer

The airplane that started it all, the Wright Flyer, made history on a gusty morning on Dec. 17, 1903, at Kill Devil Hills in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The Flyer was launched into the air for a mere 12 seconds over a distance of just 120 feet with Orville Wright at the controls, but it was an honest to goodness heavier-than-air powered flight, a feat that a number of pioneering individuals and teams were feverishly chasing. On the fourth and final flight of the day, Wilbur piloted the Flyer for 59 seconds over a distance of 852 feet. With these first trips aloft, the Wright brothers proved that sustained, controlled, powered flight was possible, and their place in history was assured. Today the Wright Flyer hangs in the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

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3. P-51 Mustang

With the distinctive roar of the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine and striking design lines, the P-51 Mustang has become an airshow classic. But its military heritage is even more impressive. Introduced in the early 1940s, the Mustang became an instant hit with fighter pilots, with its nimble handling characteristics, high-altitude capabilities and good speeds. The Mustang was deployed in more than 50 countries worldwide, and more than 15,000 P-51s were produced by North American Aviation (NAA). With a surplus of military airplanes after the war, Mustangs could be purchased for $1 — a nice investment for someone with a crystal ball since the going rate today is around $2 million.

"P-51 Mustang, designed by North American Aviation (NAA), was a well-designed airplane and most World War II fighter aces found it was the best fighter in the war. The A-model with the Allison engine was not very effective above 15,000 feet because it did not have a supercharger, but it was still a crackerjack airplane. The Rolls-Royce engine made it a tremendously different airplane. It gave it the ability to fight all the way up to 40,000 feet and defend the bombers from the time they got over enemy territory until they returned to friendly territory. It was the first airplane capable of doing that." — Bob Hoover

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2. Cessna 172

In the early 1950s, the American airplane manufacturing industry was at a crossroads between the old and the new worlds. The new was symbolized by sheet-metal construction, tricycle landing gear and modern, opposed engines. Though an outgrowth of the taildragger 170, the all-metal four-seat 172 crystallized the modern mood and brought people into aviation by the tens of thousands. An affordable, easy-to-fly, safe and remarkably utilitarian design, the 172 was a fun flier, trainer and cross-country machine all in one: It is arguably the most pleasing compromise in aviation history, along with being, not coincidentally, the most popular airplane ever.

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1. Piper Cub

The airplane that taught a generation to fly, the Piper Cub is as instantly recognizable today as it was when production began almost 75 years ago. Introduced in 1938, the J-3 Cub was an immediate hit based on its simplicity, affordability and forgiving flying characteristics. During World War II, the L-4 military version of the Cub proved an excellent observation platform from which to spot German tanks, and at the height of production a new Cub was rolling out of the factory in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, once every 20 minutes. After the war, William T. Piper priced the Cub at $2,195, perfect for returning GIs with a yearning to fly. All told, Piper had produced some 20,000 J-3 Cubs and L-4s by the end of production in 1947.

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Jim Koepnick

Top 100 Airplanes

Top 100 Airplanes

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