Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Miscellany: Top 5 Airplanes

I've always loved aviation, so the "5 favorite airplanes" meme going around the blogs is a perfect fit. Here's a few of the planes that stick out in my mind (if we included helicopters, the Huey would be on there, too). Keep in mind I'm not a pilot, so most of this stuff is by reputation and notoriety rather than effectiveness in flight:

5. Boeing X-32

If you've ever watched the "Battle of the X-Planes" episode of "Nova," you can probably guess why this one is here. The X-32, which competed with Lockheed Martin's F-35, was and is ugly, unsightly, and bulbous (the chin made it look like a flying whale). It couldn't even achieve supersonic flight in the same trim as it did a STOVL sequence with. Still, it was a very different design in a world saturated by look-alike fighter planes.

4. Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

The B-17, for me, is a symbol of how quickly technology moves. Less than forty years from the wooden frame flying at Kitty Hawk, we have a strategic bomber that can carry 20,000 pounds, and in numbers, can level entire cities. The B-17 was also a great symbol of American air superiority (check out "Twelve O'Clock High with Gregory Peck - it's essentially a two hour-long Hollywood advertisment for the B-17).

3. Douglas DC-3

Another classic plane which saw heavy use during WWII. I'm familiar with it mostly because I once received an incredible die-cast version of the plane as a gift - it was a mail plane, with brown and tan trim that looked awfully sharp to a young boy's eyes. Only later did I read about how the Dc-3 revolutionized air travel.

2. Grumman F-14 Tomcat

The U.S. military and Hollywood have a symbiotic relationship that is probably unique. When "Top Gun" came out on video, it made everyone want to be an ace fighter pilot - until they realized how much training and screening is needed before someone lets you control a 30 million dollar aircraft bristling with expensive weaponry. The plane itself served fairly well, although I wouldn't want to fly an F-14 equipped with the crappy TF-30 engines in a dogfight.

1. Stearman Model 75

A classic biplane, and a rugged one - this is the kind of plane you fly in to remember how cool it is that human beings can fly in the first place. A regular performer at air shows across the country, the Stearman is nimble and agile, which is probably not what you'd expect out of 60 year-old technology. While the other planes on this list might be "better" in some sense, this is the only one you could ever hope to maintain yourself.


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