Top 20 Airplanes

 Top 20 Airplanes:


1.   Wright Brothers’ Flyer 1

2.   DC-3

3.   SR-71 Blackbird

4.   ME-262

5.   Harrier

6.   B-52 Stratofortress

7.   F-117A Nighthawk

8.   P-51 Mustang

9.   ME-109

10.              X-15

11.              F-14 Tomcat

12.              TU-95 Bear

13.              Concorde

14.              B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber

15.              F-35 Lightning II

16.              B-29 Superfortress

17.              C-130 Hercules

18.              U-2 Dragon Lady

19.              MiG-31 Foxhound

20.              Solar Impulse 2


1.  Wright Brothers’ Flyer 1

Manufacturer: Wilbur and Orville Wright        

  First Flight: December 17, 1903

  Top Speed: About 10 mph

  Country of Origin: United States

The Wright Flyer (also known as the Kitty Hawk,Flyer I or the 1903 Flyer) made the first sustained flight by a manned heavier-than-air powered and controlled aircraft—an airplane—on 17 December 1903. Invented and flown by Orville and Wilbur Wright, it marked the beginning of the pioneer era of aviation.

The Wright brothers flew the Wright Flyer four times that day on land now part of the town of Kill Devil Hills, about 4 miles (6 kilometers) south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The aircraft was preserved and is now exhibited in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.


2. DC-3

Manufacturer: Douglas Aircraft Company

First Flight: December 17, 1935

Top Speed: 207 mph

Country of Origin: United States


The Douglas DC-3 is a propeller-driven airliner, which had a lasting effect on the airline industry in the 1930s to 1940s and World War II. It was developed as a larger, improved 14-bed sleeper version of the Douglas DC-2. It is a low-wing metal monoplane with conventional landing gear, powered by two radial piston engines of 1,000–1,200 hp (750–890 kW). (Although most DC-3s flying today use Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp engines, many DC-3s built for civil service originally had the Wright R-1820 Cyclone.) The DC-3 has a cruising speed of 207 mph (333 km/h), a capacity of 21 to 32 passengers or 6,000 lbs (2,700 kg) of cargo, and a range of 1,500 mi (2,400 km), and can operate from short runways.

The DC-3 had many exceptional qualities compared to previous aircraft. It was fast, had a good range, was more reliable, and carried passengers in greater comfort. Before the war, it pioneered many air travel routes. It was able to cross the continental US from New York to Los Angeles in 18 hours, with only three stops. It is one of the first airliners that could profitably carry only passengers without relying on mail subsidies.


3. SR-71 Blackbird

The Lockheed SR-71 "Blackbird" is a long-range, high-altitude, Mach 3+ strategic reconnaissance aircraft developed and manufactured by the American aerospace company Lockheed Corporation. It was operated by the United States Air Force (USAF) and NASA.

The SR-71 was developed as a black project from the Lockheed A-12 reconnaissance aircraft during the 1960s by Lockheed's Skunk Works division. American aerospace engineer Clarence "Kelly" Johnson was responsible for many of the aircraft's innovative concepts. The shape of the SR-71 was based on that of the A-12, which was one of the first aircraft to be designed with a reduced radar cross-section. Initially, a bomber variant of the A-12 was requested by Curtis LeMay, before the program was focused solely on reconnaissance. Mission equipment for the reconnaissance role included signals intelligence sensors, side-looking airborne radar, and a camera; the SR-71 was both longer and heavier than the A-12, allowing it to hold more fuel as well as a two-seat cockpit. The SR-71 entered service in January 1966.

The SR-71 has several nicknames, including "Blackbird" and "Habu". As of 2022 the SR-71 holds the world record it set in 1976 as the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft, previously held by the related Lockheed YF-12.

4. ME-262

Manufacturer: Messerschmitt

First Flight: April 18, 1941

Top Speed: 530 mph

Country of Origin: Germany

Nicknamed the “Swallow,” the ME-262 was the world’s first operational jet fighter, introduced about three months before Britain’s Gloster Meteor, the Allies' only jet fighter to enter service during World War Two. Used by Germany, the Swallow carried four 30 mm cannons, as well as rockets and bombs, giving it enough pop to down B-17s, P-51s, and anything else the allied forces threw against it. Capable of speeds of over 500 mph, the Swallow was faster than anything flying by about 100 mph. The fighter’s major shortcoming was that the engines needed replacement after about 25 hours of flight. Unfortunately for Germany, its use came too late in the war to turn the tide.

5. Harrier

Manufacturer: Hawker Siddeley

First Flight: December 28th, 1967

Top Speed: 730 mph

Country of Origin: Great Britain

Commonly known as the Harrier Jump Jet, the Harrier (a bird of prey) was the first operational jet fighter capable of vertical/short takeoff and landing (V/STOL). Introduced in 1969 and used by the Royal Air Force (RAF), this subsonic strike fighter, part of the first generation of Harriers, needed no runway for take-off, only a small clearing or the deck of an aircraft carrier. In the 1970s, the United States Marine Corps (USMC) began using Harriers, which were considered to have performance similar to F-4 Phantoms. The second generation of Harriers took flight in the 1980s. Redeveloped by McDonald Douglas, this newer version was named the AV-8B Harrier II. In 2015, the F-35B, capable of vertical takeoff, began replacing the AV-8B Harrier II.

6. B-52 Stratofortress

Manufacturer: Boeing

First Flight: April 15, 1952

Top Speed: 650 mph

Country of Origin: United States

Since it first went into service in 1955, the B-52 has been one of the most reliable and versatile strategic long-range bombers in the US arsenal, fighting in numerous wars and conflicts from one century into the next. Designed to carry conventional as well as nuclear weapons, the aircraft uses eight turbojet engines, can carry monstrous payloads, and has a range of over 12,000 miles. Over the years, the B-52 has had numerous retrofits, including a deployment capability for cruise missiles and drones, which has extended its usefulness into the twenty-first century. Even supersonic bombers such as the B-1 have not replaced this mainstay. It may never be retired!

7. F-117A Nighthawk

Manufacturer: Lockheed Corporation

First Flight: June 18, 1981

Top Speed: 617 mph

Country of Origin: United States

The F-117A Nighthawk was the first stealth fighter in the arsenal of the USAF. (Strictly speaking, though, the Nighthawk was not a jet fighter; instead, it was used for ground attack.) Developed in the early 1980s, the Nighthawk was virtually invisible to radar and carried laser-guided bombs and other guided munitions or “smart bombs.” The Nighthawk was particularly effective in the Persian Gulf War in 1991, flying over 1,300 sorties, and not a single one was shot down. However, one Nighthawk was shot down in the Kosovo War in 1999, the enemy using particularly long-wavelength radar to spot it. This stealth fighter was retired from service in 2008, superseded by more advanced stealth fighters such as the F-22.

8. P-51 Mustang

Manufacturer: North American Aviation

First Flight: October 26, 1940

Top Speed: 437 mph

Country of Origin: United States

This fast, long-range, powerful fighter-bomber may have won the war in Europe during World War Two. Utilizing its great versatility, P-51s helped the allied forces dominate the air during 1944, setting the stage for the defeat of Nazi Germany. The P-51 was also widely used during the Korean War, even after jet fighters such as the F-86 came on the scene. The U.S. military continued using P-51s until the early 1980s. These days, P-51s can still be seen in air shows and races, and many countries throughout the world use P-51s for civilian applications.

9. ME-109

Manufacturer: Bayerische Flugzeugwerke (BFW)

Messerschmitt AG

First Flight: May 29, 1935

Top Speed: 379 mph

Country of Origin: Germany

The ME-109 could be considered the German counterpart to the Japanese Zero because it was Germany’s best fighter aircraft during World War Two, particularly in the early years; however, it remained formidable throughout the war, being reliable, fast, versatile, though it lacked range. Many different versions of the airplane were created, highlighting differences in armament, power train, or structural characteristics. Perhaps the best was the ME-109F, for which modifications more than doubled the airplane’s range. Interestingly, more ME-109s were produced–nearly 34,000–than any other fighter in history!

10. X-15

Manufacturer: North American Aviation

First Flight: June 8, 1959

Top Speed: 4,520 mph

Country of Origin: United States

Made for NASA, the USAF, and the USN, the X-15 rocket plane flew for experimental purposes from the late 1950s to the late 1960s. This long, sleek craft was designed to fly to the threshold of space, some 50 to 70 miles in altitude, technically making the pilots astronauts. In fact, it was the world's first operational space plane. To attain such heights, the aircraft was launched from the underside of a B-52, and then it fired its rocket, accelerating the craft to Mach 6.7 or about 4,500 mph. The X-15 flew almost 200 flights, and the data obtained helped the American space program. Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, flew the X-15 numerous times.

11. F-14 Tomcat

Manufacturer: Grumman Aerospace Corporation

First Flight: December 21, 1970

Top Speed: Mach 2.34 (1,544 mph)

Country of Origin: United States

Designed to replace the F-4 Phantom II, then seeing service during the Vietnam War, the F-14 Tomcat, a supersonic, twin-engine, variable-sweep wing jet fighter, was used by the US Navy for 35 years. It was designed as an air superiority fighter and a long-range interceptor aircraft. In the 1980s, the Air Force of the Islamic Republic of Iran used F-14 Tomcats during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), destroying as many as 160 Iraqi aircraft! In the present day, Iran still uses these versatile and dependable jet fighters. Tomcats were also used during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. In 2006, F-14 Tomcats were replaced by the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. Notably, F-14 Tomcats have been featured in several movies and TV shows, perhaps the most popular of which Top Gun (1986), a movie starring Tom Cruise.


12. TU-95 Bear

Manufacturer: Tupolev

First Flight: November 12, 1952

Top Speed: 400 mph

Country of Origin: Russia

Essentially a copy of Boeing’s B-29 Superfortress, the TU-95 Bear, came into use in 1956 and is expected to be utilized until 2040 or beyond. Used as a long-range bomber and cruise missile platform, the TU-95 uses four Kuznetsov NK-12 coupled turboprops, which are more powerful and have a longer range than piston-driven propeller engines (jet engines were considered unsuitable for this plane because they use too much fuel). This bomber is designed to fly from Russia to the US, if needed, having a range of about 7,800 miles. Over the years, the TU-95 has been modified or enhanced, producing variants, the most recent of which in 2020. In November 2016, a TU-95 launched cruise missiles during the Syrian Civil War. Interestingly, the TU-95 Bear is the only propeller-driven strategic bomber still in use.

13. Concorde

Manufacturer: BAC (later BAe and BAE Systems), Sud Aviation (later Aérospatiale and Airbus)

First Flight: March 2, 1969

Top Speed: 1,354 mph

Country of Origin: France and Britain

Although the United States and the Soviet Union had planned to build their own supersonic passenger jet airliners, only France and Britain’s Concorde was completed and went into regular service in 1976. The Concorde could cruise at Mach 2, or over 1,300 mph, and could fly nonstop from London to New York, giving it the longest range of any supersonic aircraft. The Concorde continued flying for 27 more years. But various problems ended its career. Always very expensive to operate, the plane’s avionics were analog and needed an upgrade, and a fatal crash in 2000 belied its apparent invincibility. The Concorde flew for the final time in November 2003.

14. B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber

Manufacturer: Northrop Corporation, Northrop Grumman

First Flight: July 17, 1989

Top Speed: 628 mph

Country of Origin: Unites States

Also known as the flying wing and first projected during the Carter administration in the 1970s, this long-range strategic bomber is the obvious successor to the great B-52. But this bomber came at a much greater cost–over $2 billion for each plane as of 1997! The B-2 can fly at just under Mach one and carry 40,000 pounds of ordinance, conventional or thermonuclear weapons, and can fly for over 6,000 miles before refueling. About 20 of these bombers have been produced to date, and they’ve been used in combat in Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. Military officials think the B-2 will remain useful until at least 2050.


15. F-35 Lightning II

Manufacturer: Lockheed Martin Aeronautics

First Flight: December 15, 2006

Top Speed: 1,726 mph

Country of Origin: Unites States

First produced in 2006, the F-35, a stealth multi-role fighter, is definitely the most expensive jet fighter ever produced by the United States Air Force. Each plane costs between $90 and $120 million, depending on the variant number (the F-35B can accommodate vertical takeoff), and the total cost of production is supposed to be about $1.5 trillion, that is, projecting well into the future–2070, if you can believe the predictions. (This cost doesn’t include the $1 trillion of projected maintenance costs). As for performance, only the F-22 Raptor compares to it, or so the reports say. Of course, this very costly aircraft has its share of critics. The common refrain regarding the plane is that "it’s too big to kill."


16. B-29 Superfortress

Manufacturer: Boeing

First Flight: September 21, 1942

Top Speed: 357 mph

Country of Origin: United States

Perhaps the greatest bomber developed during WWII, if not the most expensive—$3 billion for design and production (the Manhattan Project cost $1.9)—the B-29 Superfortress ended WWII by dropping two nuclear bombs on Japan in August 1945. This long-range, strategic bomber was needed in the Pacific theater of WWII because it could carry 20,000 lbs of bombs over a range of 3,250 miles. It also had a fully pressurized cabin, an analog computer system allowing the remote control of four gun turrets, a tricycle landing gear, and the Silverplate series had fuel injection and reversible props. This bomber stayed in service until the early 1960s and was used in both WWII and the Korean War.

Deserving honorable mention, the B-17 Flying Fortress was America’s principal long-range, strategic bomber during the European theater of WWII. The B-17 dropped more bombs than any other U.S. aircraft during WWII and had the reputation of possessing great toughness in battle.


17. C-130 Hercules

Manufacturer: Lockheed Corporation, Lockheed Martin

First Flight: August 23, 1954

Top Speed: 368 mph

Country of Origin: Unites States

In production since the early 1950s, the C-130 Hercules is another very impressive workhorse of the sky. A four-engine, turbo-prop plane with a cargo ramp in the back, the C-130 Hercules has some 40 different variants and may be the most versatile aircraft ever built, having usage for troop transport, medevac, cargo transport, airborne assault, military training, search and rescue, firefighting, aerial refueling and maritime patrol. Used primarily by the United States Air Force, although greatly used by many foreign air forces, the C-130 was designed to be adequate for the needs of modern warfare. Its usage will probably continue until at least the 2030s.

18. U-2 Dragon Lady

Manufacturer: Lockheed Skunk Works

First Flight: August 1, 1955

Top Speed: 500 mph

Country of Origin: Unites States

The U-2 spy plane, that is, its various updated models, has been flying since 1955. In addition to being used in reconnaissance (or spying), the U-2 is used for electronic sensor research, satellite calibration, and scientific and communication purposes. It can fly as high as 70,000 feet, a point at which the curvature of the earth is quite evident. Originally operated by the Central Intelligence Agency, the U-2 was used to photograph military installations in the Soviet Union. Infamously, two U-2 spy planes were shot down by Russian surface-to-air missiles, one in 1960 and the other in 1962. Interestingly, as recently as August 2018, the U-2 was used for mapping the Mendocino Complex Fire in California, and it could remain a viable multi-use aircraft until 2050.


19. MiG-31 Foxhound

Manufacturer: Mikoyan-Gurevich/Mikoyan

First Flight: September 16, 1975

Top Speed: 1,864 mph

Country of Origin: Russia

Developed by the Soviet Air Forces, the MiG-31 replaces the MiG-25 “Foxbat" and may be the fastest combat jet or interceptor in the world. Introduced in 1981, the MiG-31 is designed to intercept cruise missiles, drones, helicopters, and strategic bombers. Flying at Mach 3 or more, it has many other impressive attributes: it’s the first aircraft to use phased array radar; it’s the first operational fighter to use a passive electronically scanned array; it can track 24 airborne targets simultaneously; it can track objects, as small as five square meters, as far away as 282 kilometers; and it can carry conventional and nuclear warheads. Updated many times over the years, the MiG-31 could remain in service until 2030.


20. Solar Impulse 2

Manufacturer: Solar Impulse

First Flight: June 2, 2014

Top Speed: 87 mph

Country of Origin: Switzerland

This aircraft uses no fuel; it is powered only by photovoltaic solar cells. First flown as the Solar Impulse 1 in 2009, this airplane can take-off under its own power and fly hundreds, if not thousands of miles, for up to 36 hours. But it does have limitations: it can only carry one person and virtually no payload; it can only fly in clear weather conditions and needs scores of engineers and technical and logistical personnel. Nevertheless, in 2016, the Solar Impulse 2 flew over 26,000 miles on a protracted, 16-month trip–the first such aircraft to circumnavigate the earth using only solar power. The plane’s designers envision a time when all commercial and private aircraft will fly using only solar power.


Priya Kesharwani [MBA]

Marketing Manager

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