While by no means definitive, the following list of flying machines is what we consider, after many grueling hours of debate, to be the most important airplanes in the course of history. Every one of the airplanes herein has left a lasting impact—not just on aviation as an industry but on the course of humanity as a whole.
Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird
This supersonic research aircraft is famous for being the first manned airplane to break the sound barrier, in 1947. It was also the first X-plane, ushering in a series of rocket-powered aircraft. These experimental aircraft were used to test advanced systems and aerodynamics, and the lessons learned would propel the United States into space. Plus, the supersonic flight data collected from X-1 tests proved invaluable to those designing future U.S. fighter jets.
Spirit of St. Louis
Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II
General Atomics MQ-1 Predator
Scaled Composites Voyager
This high endurance one-of-a-kind aircraft was originally sketched on a napkin by Burt Rutan. It went on to be piloted by Burt's brother Dick and Jeana Yeager, to become the first aircraft to circumnavigate the globe without the need to stop or refuel. Powered by one forward and one rear-facing propellor attached to separate engines, the aircraft would average an altitude of 11,000 feet and a speed of 116 mph during its nine-day non-stop journey from Edwards Air Force base in California.
Piper J-3 Cub
Messerschmitt Me 262
General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon
Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star
Dassault Falcon 7X
Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey