The aircraft is one of the most magnificent illustrations of human engineering. Whether military or civilian, iconic models have marked out the history of aviation and enabled pilots as brave as they were talented to become part of the legend. From the Blériot XI, which crossed the English Channel in 1909, to the Supermarine Spitfire of the Battle of Britain – a decisive stage in the Second World War -, the majestic Concorde or the plane of the future SpaceLiner, here are some of the legendary aircrafts that will always make us dream for more.
Before starting the list, we should note that this list is made on no particular order and the aircrafts you will see here are randomly listed. Let’s get down to list.
23. Canadair CL-415, a Water Bomber with an Impressive Capacity
The Canadair CL-415 is a light water bomber aircraft designed and built by the Canadian firm Bombardier Aerospace. The aircraft is a specialist in firefighting and is in use in numerous countries, including France, where it is known as the “Pelican”. The aircraft is well-known for its high levels of reliability and has two tanks that can hold more than 6,000 liters of water.
Named after the Fouga Magister, it is a jet aircraft developed in France in the 1950s. Identifiable by its V-shaped rear tail, the aircraft was first employed as a pilot trainer for the French Air Force and as a communication aircraft. Thanks to its abilities, it also proved to be a fantastic aerobatic aircraft and was operated by the Patrouille de France between 1956 and 1980. A thousand of these aircraft were produced and the Fouga Magister was later adopted by some 20 countries.
This World War II German short-lived single-seat fighter-bomber, which operated between 1944 and 1945, was the first military jet aircraft. The first trials were performed in 1941 (using a piston engine) and in 1942 with two engines. Flying speeds of over 800 km/h were recorded in operation. Being faster than any plane of the time, it was very hard to shoot down and it was very effective in attack.
On the other hand, the Me 262 had a short range of just over an hour, which meant a maximum range of about 1,000 kilometers, well under half that in operations. The engines delivered little power at low speeds. They were also unpredictable and responded poorly to go-arounds, occasionally shutting down. When the Allied armies took control of the skies in the spring of 1944, it was hard for the German army to exploit the Me 262.
Airbus Group Innovations launched the E-Fan, a twin-engine electric aircraft in 2011. Thanks to its lithium-ion batteries installed in the wings and its two 60 kW electric motors, the E-Fan can fly for one hour at an average speed of 160 km/h. The E-Fan flew across the English Channel from Lydd, England, to Calais on 10 July 2015.
The Spirit of St. Louis, which was piloted by the American aviator Charles Lindbergh, touched down at Le Bourget airport (north-east of Paris) on 21 May 1927 having flown 5,808 kilometers in one stretch from Roosevelt airfield on Long Island (New York, United States). It took 33 hours and 30 minutes to accomplish this first transatlantic crossing in extraordinary conditions. Lindbergh did not take a parachute or a radio with him on board because he wanted to keep the aircraft light and use as little fuel as possible. Most of the flight was conducted under instruments as the plane’s front window was blocked by a fuel tank.
Concorde is the outcome of a Franco-British joint venture between Sud-Aviation (now Aerospatiale) and the British Aircraft Corporation (now British Aerospace). The Concorde is, besides the Tupolev Tu-144 (which was developed in the Soviet Union), the only supersonic plane to have been used to carry civilian passengers. With 20 examples built, this four-engine aircraft flew on commercial routes from 1976 to 2003, primarily on transatlantic routes. The Paris-New York route with Air France took three and a half hours.
The Concorde, while sophisticated and symbolic, failed commercially due to its high maintenance costs and fuel consumption. The ultimate blow to the legendary aircraft’s career happened on 25 July 2000 in Paris when an Air France Concorde plane crash-landed two minutes after take-off from Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle airport, resulting in the deaths of 113 people. The aircraft last flew commercially on 31 May 2003 for Air France and on 24 October 2003 for British Airways.
Bearing the name of its renowned designer, the Blériot XI influenced the early days of aviation in several respects. It flew 38 km over the English Channel for the first time on 25 July 1909 at an average speed of 61.6 km/h thanks to its three-cylinder Anzani fan engine producing 25 horsepower. During World War I, this aircraft was also used for French military scouting missions, and is displayed in the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris and in the Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace in Le Bourget.
Mistubishi A6M was a Japanese single-seater fighter-bomber that started in 1939 and had a big influence on the war against the United States of America. This powerful single-engine prop plane (with more than 900 horsepower) was feared by US pilots and was fairly typical of World War II fighters. The Japanese ‘Zero’, or ‘Zeke’ (for the Allies), was exceptionally maneuverable and light, ensuring a high speed (nearly 600 km/h).
Nevertheless, its dominance decreased with the introduction of American aircrafts that had much more power (the P47 had over 2000 horsepower). The Zeros proved to be vulnerable because they had no armor to keep their weight down, and ultimately sustained heavy losses. The Zeros in flying condition are nowadays extremely uncommon and are always a part of reconstruction projects. The Zero that can be viewed every year at the La Ferté-Alais airshow, near Paris, is actually a converted North American T6, which was used in several films.
First put into service in the 1960s, the MiG21 is currently the most produced jet aircraft in the world, with 11,000 manufactured and just under 800 still in operation. As an icon of Soviet military prowess, the MiG-21 is regarded as a high-performance, nimble aircraft that requires the skills of its pilots in the combat.
The Spitfire is the other legendary fighter aircraft of the Second World War, together with the Messerschmitt Bf 109. Thanks to the Spitfire, the British Royal Air Force managed to win the notorious Battle of Britain. It was a monoplane with elliptical wings and a highly aerodynamic shape that enabled it to reach speeds of up to 650 km/h using its Rolls-Royce engine. The Supermarine Spitfire was produced in more than 20,300 units, with different versions used by several countries, notably France, Egypt, Israel and Turkey.
The German Centre for Aeronautics and Astronautics started work on a project for a fully reusable suborbital aircraft in 2005. Designed to accommodate 50 passengers, it would take off in a vertical position like a space shuttle. Driven by a launcher fitted with nine cryogenic engines, the plane can glide at very high speed and cover great distances. A SpaceLiner could in theory fly from Europe to Australia in 90 minutes. This very ambitious project will not be finished, at best, before 2040s.
A German fighter aircraft that gained fame during WWI was the Fokker Dr.1 (or Dreidecker, meaning ‘triplane’ in German). Thanks to its structure with three short wings stacked one on top of the other, it provided excellent handling, particularly for tight turns. It earned its reputation under Manfred von Richthofen. He fought 80 victorious battles and was dubbed the ‘Red Baron’ after the color of his aircraft.
Starting in 1936, with its low ‘cantilever’ wings (without masts or struts) carrying two engines, its cylindrical fuselage and good aerodynamics, the DC3 became the epitome of the modern commercial aircraft. There were other planes that were similar to it (like the Boeing 247) but this one sold the best. It was fast (over 300 km/h), safe and convenient, and had a range of over two thousand kilometers.
The US Air Force chose it as a carrier aircraft during WWII. The aircraft evolved into the C47 (and the ‘Dakota’ in the United Kingdom), notably used for parachuting. With its black and white stripes, it is still one of the icons of the Allied Forces in June 1944. The post-war career of the DC3 as an aircraft for commercial use was remarkably long. Around the time of the 1960s, the DC3 was fitted to Air France as a medium-haul aircraft, at a time when jets were appearing. It is still flying in some countries today, powered by turbines instead of piston engines.
In 2003, the Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard and the pilot André Borschberg, accompanied by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, began the Solar Impulse project. The aircraft has a 72-metre wingspan and is powered by four electric motors (13.5 kW each), fed by 11,628 PV cells. In March 2015, following a first test flight in 2010, the Solar Impulse 2 departed from Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) for a world tour with 13 stopovers. However, the journey was stopped in July of the same year in Hawaii, where the plane was grounded after suffering severe damage to its batteries.
This American army single-seater bomber-fighter weighing almost four tons empty was developed with a powerful 2,000 horsepower Pratt & Whitney engine. First built in 1942, it fought in the Pacific War during the Second World War. The aircraft was recognizable thanks to its W-wing (allowing the landing gear legs to be shorter), and was a very fast aircraft for that time (over 600 km/h), and was designed to make landings on aircraft carriers. The plane was then employed by the French army in Indochina, beginning in 1952.
The German engineer Willy Messerschmitt developed the Bf 109 in the 1930s, which initially made its presence felt during the Spanish Civil War. Thanks to its sophisticated design, the aircraft was able to develop new combat methods that enabled it to dominate the air throughout the first half of the Second World War. A total of 33,000 of this aircraft were built, and were successively fitted with Junkers Jumo and Mercedes-Benz engines.
Picture a driving school car that would turn drivers into world rally champions. This is what the Stampe & Vertongen SV-4 is all about. Developed in Belgium in the 1930s by Jean Stampe and Alfred Renard, a handful of SV-4s were sold in their native country and in the United Kingdom. From 1946 onwards, approximately 850 were built in France by SNCAN (Société nationale de constructions aéronautiques du Nord), and in Algeria by AIA (Ateliers industriels de l’aéronautique).
The handling and demonstrative biplane was used as a training aircraft for future professional pilots, both civilian and military. The SV-4A was a regular world champion until the 1960s. Virtually donated to French flying clubs, the SV-4A trained thousands of amateur pilots. Since the 1980s, this aircraft has become a classic, which has been carefully restored, and a number of them are being re-built. But why does the Stampe still fly today? Simply because it is a wonderful plane.
A heavy bomber, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress was originally designed for use in the Second World War. It was first used by the US Army in 1944 and was primarily employed during the Pacific War for the bombing missions over Korea and Japan. It became most famous after dropping the two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
A supersonic aircraft, the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird was deployed during the Cold War by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the US State Department, NASA and the US Navy for photographic surveillance and spying missions. The aircraft was in service between 1968 and 1990. With its modern fuselage, this aircraft is also very present in the collective imagination with numerous movies, TV series and video games that have used its image.
The French company Dassault Aviation builds the Falcon 7X, a three-engine business jet that was launched in 2007. The aircraft can carry up to 16 people and travel just over 11,000 kilometers (with 8 passengers). This is the first aircraft in this class to be fitted with fly-by-wire controls. The design of the aircraft was entirely computer-based, with no actual models or prototypes produced. The French Presidency uses two Falcon 7X jets.
There is no shortage of superlatives in the Antonov An-225. Manufactured in Ukraine at a time when the country was still a part of the Soviet Union, this aircraft is literally the world’s first cargo plane in terms of length and weight. With its six engines and 250 tonnes of payload capacity, the aircraft was primarily designed to transport the Russian space shuttle Buran on its back, although the project was abandoned in 1988. As a result, only one Antonov An-225 was ever built.
Today, the Airbus A380 is a long range passenger aircraft and is amongst the largest civil transport aircrafts. The four-engine, double-deck aircraft can accommodate up to 853 passengers or 150 tonnes of freight, according to its configuration. The aircraft can fly 15,400 kilometres from Hong Kong to New York non-stop.
This aircraft is known as the “Beluga” due to the shape of its fuselage, which instantly resembles the shape of the whale of the same name. Only five of the A300-600ST aircraft were built by Airbus. The Beluga is used by Airbus to carry large aircraft parts to and from its European production sites. The aircraft can carry a payload of 50 tonnes. The Beluga can carry two Airbus A330 wings or an Airbus A320+ fuselage in its 7.4-metre diameter and 37.7-metre long cargo hold.