The first functional plane departed Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903. Though the Wright Brothers were the first people to build and operate a plane, people had been dreaming of flying for centuries before then.
Among aviation’s, most famous hopefuls were Leonardo Da Vinci. He drew designs for parachutes, a hang glider, a personal flying machine, and a primitive helicopter (almost all of which, admittedly, would have been useless as designed, if not explicitly dangerous).
Today’s planes certainly look very different from what Da Vinci imagined. They’re also a far cry from the aircraft that took off at Kitty Hawk. Our modern designs, built on the backs of giants, would likely be entirely alien for innovators from the past.
Still, there’s something majestic and fascinating about vintage airplanes. We’ll talk about some of the great aircraft of yesteryear in the paragraphs below.
1. Bleriot XI
A mere six years after the Wright Brothers flew the first plane at Kitty Hawk, Louis Bleriot crossed the English Channel in his aircraft. For his efforts, he received the equivalent of $144,000.
His plane, the Bleriot XI, was a design based on the Wright Brothers’ plane. Possibly the most impressive thing of all, though, is the fact that he designed the plane in 4 years.
The Wright Brothers’ flight lasted just under one minute. Bleriot’s flight lasted over 20.
Unfortunately, most of us will never get a chance to fly to the Bleriot XI. Only a few of them are left in existence, and they’re very fragile, only operating under exceptional circumstances.
2. Supermarine Spitfire
First introduced during the Battle of Britain, the Spitfire soon became an iconic British warplane. This plane was built throughout the Second World War for use by the RAF.
The ironic thing about the Spitfire’s fame is that it wasn’t the big hero in the Battle of Britain. The truth is that the Hawker Hurricane shot down more German planes than the Spitfire did. However, it was the Spitfire that impressed people the most, so it went on to become a favorite among the Royal Air Force.
Though thousands of Spitfires were manufactured during the war, their status as national treasures and pieces of history may mean stiff competition. It also doesn’t help that only about 50 are known to exist and be fit to fly.
The good news is that you can build a spitfire if you have the room, time, and budget. If you manage to purchase one, there are a few things to know about antique airplanes, so you should probably do your research first.
3. Lockheed Constellation
When it comes to historic airplanes, the Lockheed Constellation is about as good as it gets. These vintage airplanes were first designed at the request of Howard Hughes, an eccentric billionaire who suffered from numerous mental illnesses.
During his lifetime, Hughes set a record for the fastest flight across the United States and then broke it. Hughes broke the record with an aircraft built plane entirely out of wood. He was so eccentric he once bought a hotel after it tried to kick him out. Hughes was one of the first Aviators to experience turning a vast fortune into a small one, as his visions often cost more than he initially thought. He once bought an entire fleet of aircraft to make a movie about WWI pilots and hired pilots to handle them all. Hughes is credited with establishing how to shoot aircraft in mid-air.
The Constellation is probably Hughes’ most enduring legacy. This plane flew through the skies in WWII, bringing infantry and supplies to their destinations.
With its military service over, the Constellation returned to civilian service as a passenger aircraft. The plane was improved and re-released as the Super Constellation in the early 1950s. The military called the Super Constellations into service and used them as scouting craft during the Vietnam War.
The Constellation has gone out of service since then, but some of the ideas it introduced are still in use today.
4. Piper J3 Cub
Pipers are, without a doubt, one of the most significant recreational manufacturers to ever hit the skies. The CubIt was first designed in 1938 as a training plane for the US military.
Low cost and easy to operate made it famous. Once the war ended, Piper J3s were often purchased by War-veterans who wanted to take to the skies under happier circumstances. The planes are still fairly widespread, so getting hold of one shouldn’t be too hard.
5. B29 Superfortress
It’s impossible to get hold of a B29, not because of government regulations, but because only two are still capable of flying. The B29 is still an essential part of history, though (and we certainly would love to fly one day).
This model is perhaps the most famous bomber of WWII. It was used in both Europe and the Pacific and served a critical role in the war effort.
It’s this plane that dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, effectively ending the war. You can see that exact plane in the National Air and Space Museum.
This plane was so huge that ten people had to crew it. Imagine being locked in a reasonably tight plane with nine other guys!
6. Messerschmitt ME 262
The ME 262 was a German aircraft used briefly during WWII. It had its mechanical issues and was not made in large numbers, but it holds the distinction of being the first jet fighter ever produced.
This plane would be studied after the war so that other countries could create their jet fighters. Even if the aircraft itself was experimental and flawed in design, it undeniably signaled an aviation revolution to come.
The Greatest Vintage Airplanes in Existence
Even after decades of development, there’s something about vintage airplanes that still take our breath away. We’ve talked about some of our favorites in this article, but aviation has such a rich history that we could barely scratch the surface. You should do more research to see what else there is.
If you want to know more about planes and how to get one, please visit our site. Many planes are purchased at aircraft auctions, and we can tell a bit about how these auctions work. If you need your vintage or warbird aircraft appraised, ask Jason Zilberbrand, ASA, and Senior Accredited appraiser. Jason has appraised several museum aircraft, warbirds, and fully restored fliers.