Aviation history was shaped by hundreds of unique aircraft and the pioneering pilots who dared to fly them. While many of these aircraft designs have been long abandoned, a small number are still airworthy. Here’s a closer look at five vintage aircraft you can see flying today.
In 1909, French engineer and pilot Louis Blériot made history when he crossed the English Channel in an aircraft of his own design: the Blériot XI. A single-engine tractor monoplane built from ash wood and wire, the XI was later used in military service and in air races. Although it’s rare to find airworthy aircraft from the early 1900s, there are actually two Blériot XI’s that are still flyable. You can find them at the Shuttleworth Collection in the UK and the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in the U.S., where they are only flown on special occasions.
One of aviation’s strangest-looking planes is the Airbus A300, which was nicknamed the “Beluga” for its whale-like shape. A collaborative project between the United Kingdom, France, and West Germany in 1969, the A300 was the world’s first twin-engine wide-body airliner. The A300 was primarily used for freight transportation due to its spacious cargo hold. Only five Belugas remain in operation today, where they are put to work transporting aircraft components.
The iconic DC-3 tail dragger took its first flight in 1934, quickly becoming one of the most important military transport aircraft during World War II. After the war ended, the DC-3 was put to work as an airliner. While the aircraft was introduced more than 80 years ago, there are still a few hundred flying around the world today.
There’s nothing quite like the sound of a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine rumbling inside a Supermarine Spitfire. The single-seat Spitfire first debuted in 1936 and served as an effective short-range interceptor for the Royal Air Force in World War II. An estimated 54 Spitfires remain in airworthy condition worldwide, most of which are in private collections.
Northrop N9MB Flying Wing
Considered the grandfather of today’s B-2 stealth bomber, the N9M Flying Wing was built as a scale test model for Northrop’s XB-35 flying wing bombers. Four prototype planes were manufactured to gather data on performance and maneuverability of the unique, all-wing design. The last remaining Flying Wing is at the Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino, California, and was restored to flying condition. You can catch the airplane in action at the museum’s annual Planes of Fame Air Show and other local California air shows.