2020 looks like a year where a good number of historically important aircraft have milestone anniversaries of their first flights. I’ve put together this list based on half decade increments using 1920 as the starting point and 1970 as the cut off.
It’s by no means meant to be exhaustive. Let’s have a look:
95 Years Old
Flying for the first time on February 22 of 1925, the DeHavilland DH.60 Moth was a true pioneer of General and sport aviation. It quickly became a staple aircraft of flying clubs in its native Great Britain and many places beyond. It also served as the progenitor of the DH.82 Tiger Moth training aircraft which many Commonwealth flyers of the Second World War got their first taste of flying in.
90 Years Old
Distinctive with its corrugated skin and three engine arrangement, the Junkers Ju 52 flew for the first time on October 13 of 1930. Used widely by both civil and military operators; the Ju 52 was the aircraft that German airline, Lufthansa, built their early reputation on. Like many aircraft Germany’s Luftwaffe used early on in World War II, the Ju-52 was a veteran of the Spanish Civil War. After WWII, variations of the aircraft were built in France and Spain.
85 Years Old
Heinkel He 111: First flown on February 25 of 1935, the Heinkel He 111 was Germany’s primary bomber aircraft through much of the Second World War. It was first used in combat during the Spanish Civl War. The CASA 2.111 was a post war Spanish built variation of it.
Avro Anson: First flown on March 25 of 1935, the Anson played a major role in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) in WWII. The type was used extensively for multi engine and navigation training.
Conslidated PBY Catalina: This most legendary and recognizable of flying boats first flew on March 28 of 1935. It flew in all theatres of WWII and continued with both civilian and military operators for several years after the war.
North American T-6 Texan/Harvard: As legendary and storied as many of the front line combat types it was used to train Allied pilots for, the Texan (Harvard in Commonwealth service) first flew on April 1 of 1935.
Bristol Blenheim: Though obsolete and outclassed by the outbreak of WWII, the Blenheim was critical in giving the Royal Air Force a light/medium bomber capability in the early stages of the conflict. It first flew on April 12 of 1935.
Messerschmitt Bf-109: The prototype of the aircraft that would become the backbone fighter of the Luftwaffe throughout WWII first flew on May 29 of 1935. Early versions of the Bf-109 saw action in the Spanish Civil War and post war variations were built in Czechoslovakia and Spain.
Hawker Hurricane: The primary fighter of the RAF at the outbreak of World War II and through the Battle of Britain, the Hurricane held the line admirably against the Luftwaffe until the Spitfire was available in sufficient numbers. Even after it was removed from day fighter duties, the Hurricane continued to serve the RAF in a variety of roles through the duration of the war. The Huricane first flew on November 6 of 1935.
Douglas DC-3: This most storied, legendary and influential of airliners needs no introduction. The DC-3 was a revolution in both airliner construction and the airline business. A much beloved aircraft design and subject of much nostalgia; the DC-3 served numerous operators, both civil and military, around the world for decades. It proved itself durable and very adaptable beyond its intended airliner role. It first flew on December 17 of 1935.
80 Years Old
Hawker Typhoon: Distinctive with its large “chin” radiator on the underside of its nose and the four 20 millimetre cannons in its wings, the RAF’s hard hitting dedicated ground attack fighter first flew on February 24 of 1940.
Saab B-17: Though unremarkable in design or performance, the B-17 light bomber was the first aircraft Saab designed and produced themselves. It stood as testament not only to Saab’s competence as a designer and producer of aircraft, but also of Sweden’s willingness to strive for self-sufficiency in matters of national defense. It first flew on May 18 of 1940.
North American P-51 Mustang: The Mustang is about as legendary as it gets as far as American made fighter aircraft of WWII are concerned. Through its size and higher fuel capacity, the Mustang was a game changer that allowed the Allied forces to take their fighters deeper in German held territory and stay longer. The Mustang had a distinguished career in the hands of many air arms after the war and remains very popular on the vintage aircraft circuit. It first flew on October 26 of 1940.
DeHavilland Mosquito: Designed to meet a medium bomber requirement, the Mosquito first flew on November 25 of 1940. Famous for it’s extensive plywood construction, the Mosquito was designed to be built with as little metal as possible so as not to spread resources thin or take metal workers away from projects they were already commited to. The wood construction made the Mosquito light and nimble enough that it didn’t need defensive gun armament, it could outrun most fighters at the time it was introduced to service.
75 Years Old
Hawker Sea Fury: A descendant of the Hawker Typhoon, the Sea Fury came along too late to affect the outcome of WWII, but it played a significant role in the Korean War and served the air arms of a total of ten nations. It has the distincion of being one of the fastest single engine piston driven fighters ever put into service. It also has the very rare distinction of being one of the few piston driven aircraft to achieve an air to air victory against a jet fighter. The Sea Fury first flew on February 21 of 1945.
Douglas Skyraider: A similar story to the Sea Fury, the Skyraider came along too late for WWII. However it played significant roles in the Korean War as well as the Vietnam War. It served in the air arms of ten nations and saw significant use in Africa as well as Asia. It first flew on March 18, 1945.
Lockheed P-2 Neptune: A shore based maritime patrol and anti-submarine aircraft, the Neptune served the air arms of 11 nations and had a significant post military career as a fire fighting aircraft. It first flew on May 17 of 1945.
Yakovlev Yak-11: A training aircraft developed from Yakovlev WWII fighter aircraft, the Yak-11 became an important training aircraft for Warsaw Pact air forces for many years and for many nations that were on friendly terms with the former Soviet Union. They were built under license in the former Czechoslovakia as the Let C.11 and enjoy popularity on the vintage aircraft circuit. It first flew on November 10 of 1945.
Bell 47: Instantly recognizable by the bubble shaped canopy over its cockpit and the exposed welded tube steel tail section, the Bell 47 was a workhorse helicopter of the Korean War and has been indelibly etched in the minds of many generations through the “M*A*S*H” television series. Even if a person does not know the Bell 47 by its actual name, it’s most certainly the first image that will come to their mind if you say “The M*A*S*H helicopter”. It first flew on December 8 of 1945.
Beechcraft Bonanza: Recognisable by the “V” tail that early members of the aircraft family had, the Bonanza family holds the distiction of having the longest continuous production run of any aircraft type in history. The aircraft first flew on December 22 of 1945 and over 17,000 have been built since production started in 1947. It’s a robust and very popular general aviation design that shows no signs of slowing down.
70 Years Old
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17: A development of the MiG-15 fighter, the MiG-17 had a number of refinements over its forebear and became a formidable opponent to American military aircraft during the Vietnam War. Over 10,000 were built between the former Soviet Union, China, Czechoslovakia and Poland. It first flew on January 13 of 1950 and went on to serve in the air forces of no fewer than 40 countries.
Avro Canada CF-100 Canuck: The only Canadian designed fighter to ever see mass production, the CF-100 first flew on January 19 of 1950. Serving primarily as an interceptor, the CF-100 was also tasked with the electronic warfare role later in its life. Through its commitment to NATO, Canada also flew the CF-100 from its bases in Europe. The CF-100 was also operated by the Belgian air force.
65 Years Old
Dassault Super Mystere: While not a widely used aircraft, this French design was the first supersonic aircraft of western European origins to go into mass production. It first flew on March 2 of 1955.
Aérospatiale Alouette II: The world’s first turbine powered helicopter to go into production, the Alouette II first flew on March 12 of 1955 and has served civilian and military operators in over 30 countries.
Sud Aviation SE-210 Caravelle: First flown on May 27 of 1955, the Caravelle was the world’s first jet airliner designed specifically for short and medium length routes. A very refined and clean design for the time, the Caravelle was a great success and was operated by civilian and military users in 60 countries.
Cessna 172: A living legend in general aviation. The Cassna 172 is, at 44,000 and counting, the most produced aircraft in history. It’s a fair bet that more general aviation pilots in the post WWII era earned their private pilot’s license in a Cessna 172 than any other type. The Cessna 172 first flew on June 12 of 1955 and is still going strong.
Tupolev Tu-104: The world’s second jet airliner to be put into regular service after the DeHavilland Comet from Great Britain. After the Comet was temporarily grounded following a series of accidents, the Tu-104 was the only jet airliner operating in the world between 1956 and 1958, thereby putting the west in a spot behind the former Soviet Union in the jet airliner stakes. The Tu-104 first flew on June 17 of 1955.
Lockheed U-2: America’s high flying and secretive Cold War spyplane took to the air for the first time on August 1 of 1955. Six and half decades later, members of this aircraft family are still just as high flying and secretive as they ever were.
Republic F-105 Thunderchief: First flown on October 22 of 1955 and designed to be a single seat nuclear strike aircraft, the F-105 instead went on to become a core component of American tactical air power in the Vietnam War. The aircraft was hard hitting, but quite vulnerable to ground based anti-aircraft weapons. Approximately 830 were built and almost half of them were lost in the Vietnam conflict. The F-105 was only used by the U.S. Air Force and the last of them were retired in 1984.
Saab 35 Draken: Distinctive with its double delta wing planform, the Saab Draken first flew on October 25 of 1955. Streamlined in design and capable of going twice the speed of sound, the Draken reinforced Sweden’s drive for self sufficiency in its military needs and its ability to defend its airspace in a credible manner. The Draken was easily on par with its contemporaries.
60 Years Old
Canadair CT-114 Tutor: First flown on January 13 of of 1960, this Canadian designed and built trainer served the training needs of generations of Canadian military pilots and remains the mount of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s Snowbirds air demonstration team. Malaysia used the Tutor for ground attack from 1967 to 1985.
Grumman A-6 Intruder: The U.S. Navy’s long serving shipborne heavy strike aircraft, the Intruder first flew on April 19 of 1960. The Intruder saw action in the Vietnam War as well as action over Bosnia, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya and Somalia. The last Intruders were retired from U.S. Navy service in 1997.
Grumman E-2 Hawkeye: Conspicuous by its rotating radar disk, the Grumman E-2 Hawkeye has been serving the U.S. Navy’s need for ship based airborne early warning for six decades, a job it continues to do today. It has been exported to seven countries over the years. It first flew on October 21 of 1960.
55 Years Old
Antonov An-22: A hulking beast of a transport first flown on February 27 of 1965, the An-22 is the largest turboprop powered aircraft in the world. Very few of the 68 built still fly today and the ones that do fly are quite active with both military and humanitarian missions.
Breguet Br.1150 Atlantic: The Atlantic was first flown on July 19 of 1965 and was the world’s first maritime patrol aircraft that had been designed and built as such from the ground up. Created by a multinational consortium, the Atlantic remains in service only with the French navy today.
50 Years Old
Saab 37 Viggen: A decade and a half after putting their distinctive Draken in the skies, Saab sent their equally unique Viggen skyward. First flown on July 2 of 1970, the Viggen was the world’s first production aircraft to have canard foreplanes as a standard part of the design. The Viggen was also one of the first aircraft to incorporate a flight computer of integrated circuit design, thus allowing a complex military aircraft to be crewed by a single person. The Viggen only served Sweden and was retired in 2005.
McDonnell Douglas DC-10: The world’s first wide-body trijet first flew on August 29 of 1970. The combination of a wide body and three engines worked quite well for long haul airline routes and the DC-10 along with its MD-11 follow on developments have enjoyed a good deal of popularity in airline and air cargo service over the years.
Lockheed L-1011 Tristar: First flown on November 16 of 1970, the Tristar was Lockheed’s bid to get in on the wide-body trijet market that the DC-10 was airmed at. While the Tristar did enjoy some success, it was not quite the hit that the DC-10 was. Part of that was delays in the Tristar sales due to developmental issues connected to the aircraft’s Rolls-Royce engines. The Tristar continues to fly in limited numbers today.
Grumman F-14 Tomcat: First flown on December 21 of 1970, Grumman’s F-14 Tomcat was an umistakable symbol of U.S. Navy air power wherever it went. An intimidating looking aircraft, the Tomcat was built to provide air defence to the U.S. Navy fleet and for three decades it did that job very well indeed. Though retired from American service in 2006, the Tomcat still serves in limited numbers in Iran.