As someone who’s always been an avid fan of flying, the aircraft by which we fly are by far the most important part. Though the formula may be simple, wings, powerful engines, a metal tube with leather seats and a bunch of stuff in between to help control these various aspects, aircraft manufacturers through aviation’s 113 year history have create some of the most magnificent man-made birds to ever grace the skies, ranging from those initial Piston-powered propeller pioneers back when flying was seen as a heroic and luxurious feat reserved only for eccentric millionaires, to today’s jet powered behemoths that carry hundreds of passengers per flight.
So today I honour my favourites, regardless of national origin, manufacturer, operator or period within which they were built, these are my Top 20 aircraft. Again, all opinion based, and if you have favourites yourself don’t be afraid to leave them in the comments below, but these are the ones that look good, perform well, are technically endearing, and show how far we humans can go when it comes to sweeping ourselves off our feet and heading skyward!
#20. Airbus A320 Family (1987 – Present)
Starting our list, the first Airbus to take on the domestic market, and nearly 30 years later the Airbus A320 and its derivative family continue to be a major part of the aviation world. Why is it at #20? Airbus A320’s are a touch bland. Though good aircraft and extremely useful, they aren’t particularly interesting aesthetically. But that doesn’t meant they’re bad aircraft, I’ve certainly had plenty of good times aboard them!
#19. Airbus A330 (1992 – Present)
Only ever been on an Airbus A330 once, and that was with Sabena in 1999, but the A330 still strikes me as a very interesting and quite sharp looking aircraft. Again, like the A320, it does look a touch bland, it otherwise is a good, strong aircraft that forms the mainstay of many airlines.
#18. Boeing 737 (1966 – Present)
It’s 50 years old and it’s still going strong! The Boeing 737 is quite possibly one of the most basic jet airliner designs, but it has always kept itself on the leading edge of technology. It has a mass-market appeal that shows no signs of stopping, and even mixes it in with that same crisp and beautiful styling that the 707 and 727 maintained before it.
#17. Lockheed Constellation (1943 – 1958)
Always had an admiration for the sweeping lines of the Lockheed Constellation. In TWA colours such as these this aircraft really does encapsulate everything that was both styling and sophisticated in those early days of air travel, when it was more a luxury experience than a mundane commute.
#16. Airbus A340 (1991 – 2011)
I praise and criticize the A340 for much the same reasons as the A330, a good, strong aircraft with an outward appearance that’s a little dull. But I put the A340 higher because I’ve had many more experiences with these wonderful planes, and because I have a love for aircraft with four-engines.
#15. De Havilland Comet (1949 – 1964)
Pioneering the jet age, much like the Constellation, the Comet carries on its wings sheer beauty and technical innovation. Sadly the Comet faced multiple tragedies, and in so doing started Britain’s long slide out of the commercial aviation market. But I still remember this aircraft fondly as a magnificent looking machine!
#14. Boeing 757 (1981 – 2004)
Never been on a Boeing 757, but I still really quite like them for their reliability and flexibility, being either a domestic hopper or a long-haul international link. However, the 757 falls down in that its styling is a bit lacking, always seeming to strike me as a bit of a String Bean with its thin fuselage and its rounded nose. Though I’m personally more a fan of the Boeing styles based off the 707, the 757 is still a strong and capable aircraft, and perhaps one day I might get to ride on one!
#13. Boeing 707 (1958 – 1979)
The aircraft that launched a style that would seemingly last forever, the Boeing 707 gave the world a mixture of simple but reliable jet aviation together with superb styling. It ignited the hearts and minds of tourists and travellers back in those early days, and even today can still turn heads when one happens to show up.
#12. Boeing 767 (1983 – Present)
Always been a fan of the Boeing 767, the first twinjet long-haul airliner for Boeing, it really is a fantastic design mixed with some great performance.
#11. McDonnell Douglas MD-80 (1979 – 1999)
A lot of people have a real downer on the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 and Douglas DC-9 series, I think its due largely to the shape, with a long body in front of wings and engines at the back. But to be honest, I adore these aircraft, a handsome design with some good reliability and performance. I’m not so much a fan of the DC-9 however, it’s big bulbous nose always struck me as a little odd. The MD-80 series looks much more streamlined and, depending on the livery, very crisp!
#10. Douglas DC-3 (1936 – 1942)
Though I may be a massive fan of jets, I still have a place in my heart to appreciate propeller planes, and the Douglas DC-3 and its derivatives is by far my favourite! A beautiful design mixed with some quite basic but, for the time, endearing technology that would make it the world’s first true airliner, and even helped it play a major role in the dark days of World War II.
#9. McDonnell Douglas MD-11 (1988 – 2000)
Now, I may not like the DC-10, but its styling always struck me as very handsome, and the true mix of handsome styling and reliability came to a head with its descendant, the MD-11. The MD-11 was always a trusty aircraft, barely suffering any crashes due to a fault of its own and performing incredibly well no matter the game. Also, I love planes with winglets too! DC-10 with winglets? I’m totally there!
#8. Boeing 727 (1963 – 1984)
Last time I went on a Boeing 727 was with Delta back in 2000, and I recall it being something rather spectacular, a ride aboard what many may consider a 1960’s relic. But the Boeing 727 brought to many parts of the world jet aviation, one of the first domestic airliners that mixed a simple design with reliability and pure style. It was many people’s first flying experience, and what an experience it must have been!
#7. BAC 1-11 (1963 – 1982)
I’m a real lover of British designs, even though they were far too complex for most airlines wants and needs. The BAC 1-11 however was a perfect mix of innovation and practicality, as simple as a British aircraft could go and for that it sold heavily. People adored the 1-11 back in the day, even making it big in America, and continued to use this beautiful little machine up until only recently!
#6. Boeing 747 (1969 – Present)
You really can’t deny the Boeing 747 from this list. Which one? All of them! All of the 747’s various aspects have a real charm to them, with a beautiful design from yesteryear that has now become timeless, performance that only recently has been matched, and being the true synonym for big! Whenever a 747 flies over, I really can’t help but stare!
#5. Lockheed L-1011 Tristar (1968 – 1984)
Trijets are a little obscure, but the Tristar really makes them look fantastic! I’ve always adored the L-1011 and its smooth, streamlined looks and its highly reliable performance. Sadly the L-1011 was an obscure bird in its time, with only a few hundred made compared to the thousands of rival DC-10’s and 747’s, but I feel that makes it much more special, especially when you happen to bump into one!
#4. Hawker-Siddeley Trident (1962 – 1978)
Always had a love for the Trident, an innovative and stylish looking airliner that should have taken the world by storm but sadly faded to obscurity. The Trident may have pioneered the Automatic Landing System, but its advancements came at a price, a price that most airlines weren’t willing to pay, and thus it suffered at the hands of the much more simplistic and appealing Boeing 727. A true shame, but at least we can fondly remember the Trident as a major part of those golden days of British air travel.
#3. Vickers VC10 (1963 – 1970)
You knew this was coming! The Vickers VC10 I’ve always lauded for its fantastic styling, its technical innovation and its performance. Though it’s let down in the efficiency department, being noisier than Concorde and chewing through fuel at an alarming rate, the aircraft really was way, way ahead of its time, especially when considering the competition of the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8. It’s innovation however was its downfall, being too complicated and too expensive for most airlines to run, but you can’t deny this beautiful machine its endearing nature, all wrapped up in a handsome body!
#2. BAe-146 (1981 – 2001)
For me, the BAe-146 is the aircraft I saw the most growing up. Living near Exeter Airport, the home airline, Jersey European, now Flybe, operated a sizeable fleet of these plucky little airplanes which I always thought were really cute! I’ve flown on these aircraft many times in the past, and each time has been great fun, especially since the wings and engines are above so you can get an unobscured view of the world below. Performance wise they’re among the best, highly reliable, incredibly quiet and able to take on whatever jobs you may want to throw at it. Today the old Avroliners are becoming harder to come by, but there’s still plenty in service for me to follow!
#1. BAC-Aerospatiale Concorde (1969 – 1978)
What can I say? It’s Concorde!
Arguably, it was the most endearing aircraft since the Wright Flyer, the world’s first supersonic commercial airliner (that actually worked *cough* Concordski *cough*), Concorde’s amazing style, superb record of reliability and safety, and the fact that it took the fare paying public to places that had previously only been reserved for astronauts and fighter pilots. In today’s world of austerity and environmental consideration, there will never be another Concorde as long as we continue to use fossil fuel powered aircraft, but we can look back on those glorious years one could have breakfast in London, and then have breakfast again in New York!