The good, the bad and the ugly

by | 2019-02-02

Most of us have always a sort of fascination for what flies, espacially when time comes to evaluate the easthetic value of that new visitor landing at your home airport. Why? Well aircraft are just plain fun to watch! Whether the colour or the paint scheme, the shinny aspect or simply the model type we manage to know and appreciate a good quantity of aircraft.

Recently AOPA has published one of those top 10 classic list for general aviation. This list like so many is evidently quite subjective. One may be in agreement with many choices however one can be head scratching as to why a model or another ever made the grade. This list by AOPA is quite correct. It is far from fantastic nore upsetting. It is correct like a vanilla ice cream.

Too many aircraft, too little time !

Over the century, there exists so many models constructed, so many missions to fullfill and so many commercial niche to fill that a precise and perfect list does not exist.

Personally, if utopia was reality and that good fortune would allow this aviator to fly them all, he would certainly take the challenge! Back to lower flight levels, nothing stops proper aesthetic evaluation. Visiting different aviation museums whenever the chance strikes helps a great deal to develop proper critique techniques!

This said, I have decided to dwell into the exercise of creating such a list, bypassing the “classic” nomenclature. By no means I have used any scientifically recognized approach. I merrily contacted a few colleagues and friends to “debate” on the subject and to finally provide with a definitive result right here!

The fairest of them all !

First, the question asked: “What would you gather on a list of the most beautiful aircraft?” Nothing to do with the fact that one has flown it or not, or with the quantity produced or how useful it ever was. We wanted only to filter the 10 most beautiful airplanes, whether assembled with aluminium or titanium, wood or the other types of composite materials. It does not matter. It can have propellers or not.

The most pleasant to fly

Next, we came up with a list of the most pleasant to fly. That was an error! The debate got going. Some explained with reason that they were biased due to the professional background, others said that they did not have enough samples in the logbooks and so on. All arguments were valid, this category simply got cancelled. Think about it: what flies best an F-18 or a J3, a DC-3 or a B787?

The ugliest, pardon, the most inharmonious

This category could be titled in many ways. But in the interest of not offending anyone, we shall not mention here the ugliest but rather the most unseemly that only a designer’s mother could love or once aboard which no one desires to be photographed for social medias.

Let’s be careful, I sense already pressure that climbs in front of such a list. The discomfort created could sadden many, especially if one is a devoted fan or even an owner of a laureate of this category. It must be said that failing a beauty contest, many aircraft defend themselves by being superbly a hoot to fly or simply extra efficient in its design features. There most probably exists somewhere a corollary to Bill Lear’s theory of good looking aircraft flying well. Without any further due, let’s leave the beaten paths just to have some enjoyment in this very serious matter.

The two initial lists were assembled in a conventional way calling upon pilots of acquaintance in the business. The last two were presented by a colleague and friend who took time to research and comment in order to back his choices. He has created his list of beauty by era if you will not by the usual order. The not so cute list was created in descending (really) order.

All tastes can be found in nature they say. We have found that for us, aviators, we seem to bunch together when it comes to an appreciation process.

10 most beautifull aircraft

10. Northrop B2

B2 bomber
B2 (Photo: Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III — USAF)

9. Lockheed Super Constellation

Lockheed Constellation
Lockheed Constellation (photo: RuthAS)

8. Douglas DC-3

Douglas DC-3
DC-3 (photo: Towpilot – Own work)

7. Schempp Hirth Duo Discus

Schempp Hirth Duo Discus
Duo Discus (Photo: Marc Arsenault)

6. Airbus A330

Airbus Industries A330
A330 (photo: Timo Breidenstein)

5. Piper Super Cub

Piper Super Cub PA-18
Piper Super Cub PA-18 (photo: AlfvanBeem)

4. Lockheed SR-71

Lockheed SR-71
SR-71 (photo: USAF / Judson Brohmer — Armstrong)

3. Boeing B-747-400

Boeing B747-400
B747 (photo: Adrian Pingstone)

2. De Havilland Dragonfly 

De Havilland Dragonfly DH-90
De Havilland DH-90 Dragonfly

And for number one, drum roll please:

Supermarine Spitfire

( honourable mention: the North American P-51)

Supermarine Spitfire
Supermarine Spitfire (photo: Bryan Fury75)

10 least attractive aircraft

10. Morane-Saulnier Rallye 

(Its almost STOL performance and superb flight control harmony make it very agreable to fly)

Moranne-Saulnier Rallye
Morane-Saulnier Rallye (photo: Arnaud 25)

9. Boeing B747 LCF 

(The Airbus « Beluga » is much less of an eye soar)

Boeing B747 LCF
B-747 LCF (photo: Cory Barnes)

8. Short Skyvan SC 7 

(Editor’s note: Actually it is a most beautiful aircraft, they simply have to get it out of it’s crate.)

Short Skyvan
Short Skyvan: nothing to do, even lipstick does not function (photo:  DanNav)

7. Fairey Gannet

Fairey Gannet
Fairey Gannet: it is not polite to stare too long. (photo: Marc Arsenault)

6. Beechcraft Starship 

(Cheap Piaggio version)

Beechcraft Starship
Beechcraft Starship (photo: NASA)

5. Handley Page Victor

(The windshield!)

Handley Page Victor
Handley Page Victor (photo: Mike Freer – Touchdown-aviation)

4. Quickie Aircraft Corporation Quickie Q2

Quickie Q2
Q2 (photo: Ericg)

3. PZL-104 Wilga 

(Can be excused when it is equipped with the PT6 mod: Draco. Still, it remains downright ugly.)

PZL-104 Wilga
PZL Wilga (photo: Michał Derela)

2. Boeing Phalcon

Boeing Phalcon
Boeing Phalcon (Micha Sender )

And number one, well at least its something:

1. Airbus A-380

(Editor’s note: pilots report that they like flying it)

Airbus Industries A380
A380 (photo: Richard W.M. Jones)

Beauties in their time

Ryan STA (1934)

A training aircraft designed by the same people who built the Spirit of St-Louis. One of the first low wing monoplane created for the purpose of training. One of the only aircraft which appear to go faster on the ground than in the air! First aircraft to cross the Andes. One of my friends is restoring the very aircraft that completed the feat. This was a biased choice.

Ryan STA
Ryan STA (photo: Julian Herzog)

Douglas DC-3 (1935)

No introduction required. Very few aircraft enjoy such a long life span than this classic. Timeless.

Douglas DC-3
Douglas DC-3 (photo: Towpilot)

Supermarine Spitfire MK-IX (1936)

The only aircraft with a totally elliptical wing, a very audacious construction. Did not acquire the impact on the Battle of Brittain that history grant’s it, it is most probably because of it’s look. Who would not to have one in his hangar !

Supermarine Spitfire
Supermarine Spitfire Mark IX (photo: Bryan Fury75)

Short Sunderland (1937)

Maybe my most controversial choice? It’s timeless lines are of great elegance. The one exposed at london’s RAF meseum (Hendon) is breathtaking.

Short Sunderland
Short Sunderland (Editor’s note: Too bad that Short did not continue the gorgeous trend)

Lockheed Super Constellation (1943)

A major classic. Unique in its kind. The legend says that the fuselage curve was drawn with a single stroke of a pencil by Howard Hughes. true or not, it is one heck of a story to tell!

Lockheed Constellation
Lockheed Constellation (photo: RuthAS)

De Havilland Comet (1949)

It made the grade specifically for its nose. The pure lines seem to give it almost a perfect natural flight characteristics. There is a little known historical note worth mentioning: the CSeries (now A220) nose was designed to honour the Comet’s nose, De Havilland being an acquisition by Bombardier Aerospace.

De Havilland Comet DH-106
De Havilland Comet DH-106

SR-71 Blackbird (1964)

The aircraft with all the records, records that still hold to this day and will probably always hold. Only 5 years from drawing board to maiden flight. Absolutely incredible feat demonstrated for such an audacious aircraft. Another little known fact, the titanium required for the construction was mainly imported from the USSR.

Lockheed SR-71
Lockheed SR-71 (photo: USAF / Judson Brohmer — Armstrong)

Lear 35 (1962)

I had to include a corporate aircraft in this top 10. Not a huge fan of Learjets as corporate machines however I must admit the Lear 35 profile with its tip tanks is one of the most recognizable and eye catching.
(editor’s note: Yep!)

Learjet 35
Learjet 35 (photo: bomberpilot)

Boeing 747-400 (1969)

The Queen of the skies. In many ways, airliners all look alike but the 747 (especially the 400) is likely the most elegant of all. Time seems to stop when you watch this giant tear itself away from the ground.

Boeing B747
Boeing B-747 (photo: Adrian Pingstone)

Sud-Aviation/BAC Concorde (1969)

Another unique model, equally for its collaborative development, its performance, its clientele, its look, its legend… By far it is the most tested civil aircraft in history (more than 6000 hours of flight time if memory serves me right), followed far behing by the Dreamliner and the Gulfstream G600.

Concorde (photo: Spaceaero2)

And now we are starting descent!

So now, the ugliest less attractive are to be reviewed. I have excluded every thing specially modified. Oversized radar antennas on the back or stuffed in the nose will render hideous any aircraft otherwise elegant. I also attempted to find known types (for the most anyway). This time they are sequenced in growing ugliness. The ugliest is the last one. (Editor’s note: close your eyes when you get there!)

10- Airbus 380

Very impressive to observe from close or afar. The only aircraft that appears even bigger when you cross its path “mid air” (Other editor’s note: no kidding). Its performances are equally impressive. Unequalled comfort is offered should you be fortunate enough to travel on the upper deck. But nothing is said enough: it does not have a good look. Its wings are on the other hand remarquable keeping it to #10 position.

Airbus A380
Airbus A380 (photo: Richard W.M. Jones)

9- Rockwell Saberliner

It was required to include a corporate on the way down. With its stuck up nose and windows everywhere, it is difficult to find it a good angle. Otherwise quite fun to fly apparently.

Rockwell Sabreliner
Rockwell Sabreliner (photo: By PH2 Berry, USN)

8- Fairchild Metroliner

Also in this top 10 because of its pitiful performances that have alas killed many pilots. This “San Antonio Sewer Pipe” should have been a jet but was downgraded to a turboprop. Comfort is inexistent for passengers and the cockpit reflects on shotgun ergonomics. It should consider itself lucky to be in spot #8. I could have also chosen the Beech 1900D, with its oversized forehead and all the spare parts added to correct its shortcomings. When you get to this point it is because the concept is in its last breathing moments. Well, since the 1900 performances are agreeable, the Metroliner wins.

Fairchild Metroliner
Fairchild Metroliner (photo: Phil Vabre)

7- Junkers Stuka

I hesitated between the Stuka and the Westland Lysander (Editor’s note: really?)… I have chosen my side and the germans got their spot. Its silhouette is so well known that one forgets to observe it with attention for what it is. When you do, it becomes clear. Right angles, multiple appendices… frankly ugly.

Junkers Stuka
Junkers Stuka (photo: RuthAS )

6- Boeing 377

Derived from the Superfortress (which is nice regardless of its function), this suppository is embarrassing to watch. It seems to have an all encompassing forehead and the jaw of an aristocrat.

Boeing 377
Boeing 377 (photo: Par RuthAS)

5- Dornier 228

An aircraft with impressive performance, agreeable to fly with its triple arrow wing and its fabric elevator, the 228 can brag about making friends for what it is inside.

Dornier 228
Dornier 228 (photo: Oliver Grzimek)

4- Short Skyvan SC-7

The engineers specs book must have been restrictive. One believes it’s built out of Lego.

Short Skyvan
Short Skyvan (photo: DanNav)

3- PZL Wilga

You may love it for its originality but impossible to love for its look. It rather seems to have suffered from in-vitro malformation. At least it flies well. Tip of the hat to Mike Patey for having converted it to a highly desirable version (PT6). Quite a feat!

PZL Wilga Draco conversion
PZL Wilga (Conversion Draco)

2- Republic RC-3 Seebee

Once more, the specs book was holding many challenges… The aft portion is not so bad and the front may show some interesting stylish Rocketeer prospect. But the two halves united simply do not mix, sorry.

Republic RC-3 Seebee
Republic Seebee (photo: Ahunt)

1- ATL-98 Carvair

This flying diplodocus looks like an optical illusion. Much like a deflating clown’s balloon, the evil alter ego of the 747. Its looks alone do not validate this bottom position but its execrable flight characteristics simply riveted it solidly at the bottom. Flying in a crosswind, imagine having the equivalent of another fin up front…

ATL-98 Carvair
ATL-98 Carvair (photo: Arpingstone)

At the end of the day you may not agree with all those choices. You are welcome to comment. I will gladly add justifying photographs to support your claim.

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