The evolution of aerial flight is a fascinating one, to say the least. From the Wright Brothers’ successfully flying the first viable airplane, to unmanned drones that are powered by the sun’s energy and guided by computers, the transformation of aeronautical engineering has become quite breathtaking.
Some planes of the past have made their indelible mark in aviation history, and though not impressive by today’s technological standards, they will remain historical icons for many generations to come. Here are five famous planes worth noting:
1: The Memphis Belle
WWII had a slew of military planes; but there was one that stood out: the Memphis Belle. This war plane was one of the first B-17 Bombers to complete 25 missions during the dreaded world-war; and all 25 missions were carried out without a hitch. The Memphis Belle flew it first mission during November of 1942; and the name, ‘Memphis Belle’ had everything to do with the name of the pilot’s sweetheart in Memphis, Tennessee.
After the war, the Memphis Belle was put on display outside Memphis’ National Guard Armory but endured neglect and eventual abuse by vandals. Thankfully, the Memphis Belle Memorial Association rescued the plane; and it is, currently, undergoing an exhaustive facelift to prepare it for its final destination at the USAF Museum in Dayton, Ohio.
2: The US Airways A320
Most of us recall the “Miracle on the Hudson” which made national and international headlines concerning a US Airways’ plane that took off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport on January 15, 2009, headed for Charlotte, North Carolina. The plane experienced an unexpected lay over: on the Hudson River! Only a few minutes after take off from LaGuardia, a loud bang could be heard inside the plane which was due to a flock of geese that had managed to knock out both of the plane’s engines! At just over 2,800 feet above ground-level, the very experienced pilot, Captain Chelsey Sullenberger, was stunningly able to maneuver the plane from above NYC onto the waters of the Hudson. Amazingly, the captain had only 3 minutes of ‘lift’, from the time the engines quit, to attempt any type of credible landing. If the landing couldn’t be pulled off, deadweight without any lift was destined to simply drop out of the sky in a vertical free-fall. Miraculously, all 155 people on board survived. Those passenger standing on the plane’s outstretched wings upon the water, until rescue arrived, is a picture that is etched in the annals of aeronautical wonders.
3: The Consolidated Vultee’s PB2Y Coronado
This flying boat enjoyed an illustrious career as a four-engined patrol bomber, a transport plane and a mobile ambulance for the USNavy. The first model of this type of seaplane began its missions in 1941; and the transport versions could accommodate up to 44 people or 16,000 pounds of cargo. The Coronado served throughout WWII and could easily maintain a cruising speed of 170 mph. These seaplanes were designed for bombing and antisubmarine roles; but they played an invaluable service whenever air hospitals were needed. Unfortunately, by the summer of 1946, virtually all of the Coronados were scrapped and melted down to be sold as scrap metal.
4: The “Spruce Goose”
The Spruce Goose (aka: the H-4 Hercules flying boat) belonged to Hugh Hefner. This incredible flying behemoth weighed in at 400,000 pounds in 1942. It was deemed the largest flying boat ever constructed, with the widest wingspan that measured over 319 feet; and the plane’s length came in at 219 feet. During construction, laminated birch (not spruce) was substituted for metal; and the plane was designed and built by Mr. Hughes along with a select crew of aviation experts. The plane’s name, “Spruce Goose”, was dubbed by the press; and the title was never accepted by Mr. Hughes who considered the name to be uncomplimentary.
Intended to be used for military purposes, it was in 1947 that the US Government had shelled out $22 million on this plane; and Mr. Heffner had contributed $18 million of his own. The “test drive” by Hughes and his small crew consisted of a one-mile flight with a top speed of 80 mph, for under a minute, 70 feet above water off the waters of Long Beach, California. The H-4 Hercules ‘flying’ boat never flew again. The Spruce Goose is currently on display at the Evergreen Museum in McMinnville, Oregon.
5: The Air Force One
Air Force One is the plane that has the select responsibility of transporting presidents of the United States from one end of the globe to the next. Since 1990, the presidential fleet has consisted of two Boeing VC-25As which are highly-customized 747 aircraft. Interestingly, there have been a number of aircraft types that were used from 1933, onward, to fly US Presidents anywhere they have been required to go.
Inside the current Air Force One plane, the president and his team enjoy 4,000 square feet of floor space spanning 3 levels. A luxurious suite for the President offers a large office, lavatory and conference room. A doctor is always on board with all Air Force One flights; and a medical suite can function as an operating room, if necessary. Getting hungry aboard the Air Force One isn’t likely since multiple chef’s cater to anyone’s taste buds via the two food-prep galleys which are capable of feeding 100 people at any time, simultaneously.