For most of human history, flying seemed an impossibility. The notion that one day we would be comfortably flying across the world without a second thought would have seemed magical to someone living before the 1900s. It is really quite amazing that in such a short time it has become normal, even boring to fly commercially.
This marvel of engineering is now such a part of our daily lives we don’t see it for the incredible achievement that it is. Of course, that only applies to commercial flying. There are some famous planes that many will have heard about. These tales of exploration, skill or technological achievement still capture the imaginations of aviation enthusiasts across the world.
Here are the top five most famous airplanes of all time:
1. Wright Flyer
In a list about famous airplanes, we had to start with this one. What makes the flight of this aircraft so impressive is that it was captured on film. This marks a turning point in not only the history of flight but also the start of a technological revolution.
What made the Wright flyer unique was that it was the first “heavier-than-air powered aircraft”. Designed and built by the Wright brothers, Wilber and Orville they cemented their place in history by not just creating a glider, but also the means to control it. Their use of wing warping to create lift and a rudder were so perfect concepts for flight they are still in use today in modern airplanes.
2. Air Force One
You have almost certainly heard of this famous airplane. This is used to commonly refer to the custom built plane that the President of the United States flies on. While there are two custom built Boeing 747-200 aircraft that the president will use to get around the world, Air Force One is actually a call sign. This is the call sign that is used by any airplane that the president flies on. For security reasons, this is almost always one of the two planes that were built for the task.
Air Force One can seat up to 70 passengers, which typically includes the president’s senior advisers and Secret Service officers. It is also very common to have reporters from various media outlets on the plane as well. It can also stay airborne for as long as it needs to. The scene in the movie airforce one where they refuel in mid-air was not just to allow for a cool action sequence. That is actually possible.
3. Bell X-1
On October 14, 1947, Chuck Yeager wrote himself into the history books by flying the Bell X-1 faster than the speed of sound. That’s 1,127 km per hour. This airplane is one of the most important of all time. It paved the way for a whole generation of rocket-powered aircraft. The lessons learned from this flight and the test flights that came shortly afterwards is considered the start of the space race. Aerodynamics and aviation would never be the same again.
A fun fact from this test flight is that Chuck Yeager actually had two broken ribs on the day of the test flight. He kept this to himself as he knew that this would scrub him from the mission. He didn’t want anyone else to be the first person to travel at the speed of sound so he got the job done ignoring the pain that he knew the g forces would put on him during the flight.
4. Enola Gay
The Boeing B-29 Superfortress is already an important plane in World War II history. It allowed the US to perform bombing raids while also protecting itself from attack. Innovations introduced included a pressurized cabin, which was a game changer at the time. This famous airplane allowed for greater communication between the flight crew and no need for cumbersome masks. An analog computer-controlled fire-control system. This allowed the operation of four guns to be controlled by one gunner.
The Enola Gay is the most famous of these super fortresses. On August 6, 1945, the U.S. bomber Enola Gay dropped the first ever Atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. This plane still exists today at the U.S. National Air and Space Museum.
5. Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Model 10 Electra
One of the greatest mysteries in aviation history is what happened to Amelia Earhart and her plane. In 1936 Amelia set off on an attempt to fly around the world in a twin-engine Lockheed 10-E Electra. The registration number of the plane was NR16020. This airplane was modern and very well suited to the task.
The famous airplane had pitch propellers, flaps and retractable landing gear. These were somewhat new innovations at the time. The plane was also modified to carry 6 fuel tanks inside the fuselage. Sadly after the plane is believed to have been lost in the area of Howland Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
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