User Input

User Input: Vintage Beauty

If you don’t think that’s beautiful, you’re probably on the wrong site.

A few years ago, an ex-girlfriend bought me a birthday present that took my breath away. It was a huge painting of a Supermarine Spitfire flying through the clouds; now I know what you’re thinking. We’ve all seen paintings like this that rank slightly above a portrait of Elvis on black velvet instead of canvas. Part of why the present was so surprising is the fact that it was such a tasteful image. Years later now, I still keep it above my fireplace and get a compliment on it virtually every time a new guest comes in.

I can’t help but think, however, that an enormous portion of the reason it is so well received is the simple fact that the Spitfire is a damned good-looking plane. The dimensions are perfect, and the lines evoke speed and power in a way that few other vehicles have been able to match. But I can think of quite a few other planes — the Lancaster, the Mosquito and the P-38 Lightning, for instance — that have been gorgeous in totally different ways.

So which is the top of the heap? What is the most beautiful propellor-driven plane?

  • The Professor

    Hmm, I'll have to go with this one, the Caproni 60. Feast your eyes, ladies and gentlemen:
    <img src="http://members.jcom.home.ne.jp/mig_exp/caproni-60.jpg&quot; width=”600”>
    <img src="http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_UUOZNuCSXD4/TTdop_W6IxI/AAAAAAAAABU/8uyJTSRMxnM/s1600/CaproniCa_60.jpg&quot; width=”600”>
    Isn't it just amazing?

    • Deartháir

      My god, it's astonishing. It's a multi-level car park with engines!

      • The Professor

        Actually, I attempted to get the Turin philharmonic to perform while perched among the many wings during the aircraft's initial launch. They balked at the idea, drat the the luck. They were a terrible orchestra at the time.

      • FЯeeMan

        Engines? Unless my eyes deceive me, I see only one prop on that thing. The whole contraption must have broken itself to bits laughing at that one puny little prop attempting to move the whole building.

        That just looks… just… ambitious but rubbish. I'd love to have seen it actually fly, though, that would have been something.

        • FЯeeMan

          hunh. His Royal Wikiness of Pedia says it has 8 engines. And it actually flew. Once.

          I can't see 'em in the picture…

    • Alff

      That must be a white airplane taken during a blinding snowstorm.

      As I suspected, the problem lies within my employer's IT machine.

    • Alff

      [youtube HnGZBhrrlMk&feature=player_detailpage http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HnGZBhrrlMk&feature=player_detailpage youtube]

      • The Professor

        Well done! I didn't think to look for a video. The music is especially appropriate. Sigh, it's still a pity about the Turin orchestra though.

  • Charles_Barrett

    The Lockheed Constellation
    <img src="http://www.militaryfactory.com/aircraft/imgs/lockheed-constellation.jpg&quot; width=500>
    The slender streamlined taper of the fuselage resurfaced in the Concorde, but on the Connie there was an overall svelt sleekness. The triple rudder meant it didn't tower too high, ruining the proportions.

    And the long-legged gazelle-like landing gear would do a "runway model" proud…!

  • skitter

    I've always been partial to the Boeing Monomail.
    <img src="http://i615.photobucket.com/albums/tt237/jskitter/Atomic%20Toasters/BoeingMonomoil.jpg&quot; width="500">

  • MrHowser

    <img src="http://www.spitcrazy.com/P-51_Mustang.jpg"width=500&gt;

    I have a soft spot for the Mustang.

    Picture ironically from spitcrazy.com

    • Deartháir

      You know, I never did, but that's likely because I have a bias towards the Commonwealth, and that's the Americanized version of the Spitfire.

      • MrHowser

        Understandable. The TGUK guys get all flobbery over the Spitfire, which is a matter of national pride. Same goes for us 'murkins and the Mustang.

        • Deartháir

          Exactly. It is a damn fine plane — probably better than the Spitfire, objectively, but in many ways, so was the Hurricane. Those ones just aren't as iconic. To me, anyhow!

      • Ahem, the Spitfire and P-51 are not related. And both are beautiful.

        ::Cries, then takes toys and runs home::

        • Deartháir

          They're more closely-related than you think. The original specs for the plane — and this is all from memory, so I might not be bang-on accurate, but it'll be close-ish — were for a fighter that would basically do what the Spitfire and Hurricane could do, and also provide a better ground-attack role, and a longer range. The Brits, anticipating that they would eventually have to go on the offensive in Dubya Dubya Eye Eye, knew that the Spittie would not be able to escort bombers, or undertake longer missions to the European mainland. Supermarine would not be able to roll out a true successor to the Spitfire in time — all their resources were dedicated to making as many Spitfires as possible — so the Mustang was supposed to become the Spitfire II, in a sense.
           
          The Mustang largely sucked until they stole a few engineering tricks from the Spitfire, as well. The original engines were the same (I think) Allison engines that had proved horribly unreliable in the Lightning; they reworked the plane slightly to fit an upgraded version of the Spitfire's Merlin — built under license by Packard — and created the legend we think of today. In addition, field engineers had learned that with some slight reconfiguring, they could get a lot more speed from the Spitfire by changing the positioning and layout of exhaust and cooling ducts. These changes were applied to the Mustang, and made the plane significantly faster and more nimble than the Spitfire was.

          • You're sort of right.

            The P-51 was originally sought out and built for the UK with no US Army involvement. The Brits wanted a plane that could be used for recon and fighter/bomber roles and with a better range than the Spitfire. Originally, they wanted the P-40, but Curtis couldn't produce enough of them. So, the Brits asked North American if they could license build the P-40 for them. NAA said they could build a better plane in less time.

            The original specification from the MoD was to use the Allison V-1710. This engine was dead nuts reliable in its un-turbosupercharged form. It also sucked at high altitudes in this form. If any turbosupercharged V-1710s were fitted to a Mustang it was more of a design study than anything intended for production. NAA and the Brits found, however, that at low altitudes the Mustang was faster than the Spitty. Realizing this, they set out to find a better engine for the -B. That's when they started using the Merlin/Packard V-1650 (and most -As at the time were also field fitted with the more powerful engine).

            The tricks with the exhaust are actually a bit of a controversial subject. Apparently, during development of the P-51 the design team made two innovations. First, they used laminar flow airfloils which allowed for every low drag at high speeds. Second, they designed the radiator to exhaust the hot air past the coil in a way that created a sort of jet thrust. This second part is controversial since, apparently, NAA used the Caltech wind tunnel also used by Curtis and, apparently, bought the P-40 wind tunnel data. So, this second "innovation" may not be NAA's at all, but instead Curtis'.

          • Deartháir

            I had forgotten about the P40's involvement, good call.

            I find the Mustang so interesting because its story is dramatically different depending on which side of the Atlantic you hear it from. I've even heard versions where the Americans "convinced" the Brits to begin development of the Mustang because the Americans anticipated entry into the war, and wanted some home-grown craft ready to go, but politics prevented them from beginning development on their own.

          • Yeah, I found history accounts to be quite interesting on my tour of the French military museum.

            I wouldn't be surprised, given the politics of the late 1930s in the US, if NAA was prodded to develop the Mustang by the Army Air Corps and/or White House. There were quite possibly closed door meetings with high ranking officials from both governments and North American that came up with the idea for the Mustang.

    • I think that, looks-wise, the only warbird that beats it is the XP-47, and that was just a prototype that never really saw combat. But teh XP-47H doesn't have a bad angle.
      <img src="http://img.wp.scn.ru/camms/ar/350/pics/3_202_b1.jpg&quot; width="500">

    • Number_Six
      • ptschett

        I never knew of that aircraft till today, but my first thought was "looks like a turboprop Mustang modified for ground attack". After some research it seems I wasn't far off.

  • MrHowser

    If one is a chubby chaser, however, there is only one answer.

    <img src="http://www.aerospaceweb.org/question/design/size/spruce-goose.jpg"width=500&gt;

    • Deartháir

      How did I not think of that? I spent HOURS in that thing as a kid. It captivated me like nothing else.

  • SSurfer321

    Beech Starship. I've always loved planes with the motors at the tail.

    <img src="http://rps3.com/Images/Pages/Starship/Starship%20page/star1385%2012×9%20lg.jpg&quot;, width=500>

    • Proof that accounts are to blame for us not having pretty things.

  • kestrel131

    the Supermarine S.6B…but I have a thing for seaplanes:

    <img src="http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6154/6150781062_0bf854b489.jpg&quot; width="500" height="375" alt="Supermarine_S.6B_ExCC">

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supermarine_S.6B

  • tiberiusẅisë

    Fokker Dr1. The ultimate blend of Fearsome, Ludicrous and Hey, I could totally make one myself.

    <img src="http://scalebuilder.org/dr1jun302002-2.jpg&quot; width="400">

    image courtesy of scalebuilder

    • MrHowser

      Triplanes are an entirely separate level of awesome.

      • Deartháir

        Agreed. Should I change the question to mono-wing prop planes, so we can have a separate question on multiple-wing planes?

  • Well, I was going to say the Connie, but someone already beat me to it. I blame Charles. So, here's the second most beautiful prop plane, the Beech Model 17 Staggerwing.

    <img width=500 src="http://i249.photobucket.com/albums/gg218/CMKDMartin2/beech-staggerwing.jpg"&gt;

    • Number_Six

      Definitely in the running. Simply fantastic.

  • thomasmac

    What an awesome question! Sent my mind racing, its hard to surpass a Mk 1 Spitfire and I do like the later versions powered by the Rolls Royce Girffon but I also really like the early Allsion powered Mustangs
    Heres a Mk 1 that was recently restored to flying status
    <img src="http://i85.photobucket.com/albums/k68/bomberflight/IMG_8613_EGSU_SEP2011_7D.jpg&quot; style="width: 1200px; height: 720px; border: 0" alt="imgTag" />
    And a P-51A
    <img src="http://www.air-and-space.com/20090517%20Chino/_BEL1387%20P-51A-10NA%20NX4235Y%20Mrs%20Virginia%20right%20front%20taxiing%20l.jpg&quot; style="width: 678px; height: 452px; border: 0" alt="imgTag" />

    Conviently I was just at the Windsor Air Show last weekend were they had 2 Lancasters (sister ships even! FM212 and FM213), a new build Mosquito, and a P-51D Mustang

    Lancaster FM 212 (One of two flying the world, this one is based at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum)
    <img src="http://i35.photobucket.com/albums/d184/photothing2006/IMG_1031-2.jpg&quot; style="width: 620px; height: 465px; border: 0" alt="imgTag" />

    Lancaster FM213
    <img src="http://i35.photobucket.com/albums/d184/photothing2006/IMG_1021-2.jpg&quot; style="width: 620px; height: 465px; border: 0" alt="imgTag" />

    Vintage Wings of Canada P-51D- Damn sexy!
    <img src="http://i35.photobucket.com/albums/d184/photothing2006/IMG_1030-2.jpg&quot; style="width: 620px; height: 465px; border: 0" alt="imgTag" />

    De Havilland Mosquito-The wooden wonder!
    <img src="http://i35.photobucket.com/albums/d184/photothing2006/IMG_1023-2.jpg&quot; style="width: 620px; height: 465px; border: 0" alt="imgTag" />

    • Deartháir

      FM212 (I think) has taken off and landed from Edmonton International since I've lived nearby, and when it flew over our patio while we were outside, both Lynn and myself squealed with glee. I'm fairly certain it was she who yelled, "That's a Lancaster!" before even I could.

      • thomasmac

        Ya FM212 made a trip out west all the way to BC last summer, I cannot imagine that gas bill. The other flying Lancaster is in the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight in the UK

  • I think the P-61 Black Widow looked too badass to call "beautiful." It's like the Chuck Norris of aircraft.

    <img src="http://www.emotionreports.com/images/p-61_1%20expanded.JPG&quot; width="435">

    • Tiller188

      And they even called it "Black Widow"! That really is an awesome plane — I can't believe I hadn't heard of it until relatively recently (I feel like it was somebody's answer to some other question here, but now I dunno what…)

  • Charles_Barrett

    And then there's the GeeBee…
    <img src="http://www.richardshouse.net/gallery2/d/6160-2/This_is_a_1929_GeeBee_Racing_Plane_with_Jimmy_Doolittle_Small.jpg"&gt;
    The antithesis of the Constellation up above, the GeeBee had stubby, awkward, and graceless proportions, and looked like an unlikely candidate for flight.

    • The Professor

      Good choice! I had forgotten about the R2, a marvelous machine. I like how the cockpit is back up against the tail, and how poor the view the pilot had of the ground. The pilots were as crazy as a bag of ferrets back then.

    • In my brain, the jet-powered corollary of this was the XF-85 Goblin parasite fighter.

      <img src="http://www.tanshanomi.com/temp/XF85-goblin.jpg"&gt;

  • MrHowser

    Sorta OT – does the US military still allow nose art? I would imagine that in today's post-Tailhook, mucho-diplomacy world, pinup girls and kill tallies might be frowned upon.

  • For me the B-17 Flying Fortress is such an achingly beautiful aircraft I nearly pee myself every time I see one.

    Lucky me that I should have grown up spending summers on the flight-path of an aerial firefighting base, that had a small fleet of WWII bombers bombers including B17s and B25s. Nothing like having one of them birds scream by just overhead. (I've gotta finish that post!)
    <img src="http://military.discovery.com/technology/vehicles/bombers/images/b17-625×450.jpg"&gt;

    I also have a thing for planes of the early air-travel years like the PanAm Clipers and DC-3s. I have these two posters framed symbolically on either side of my living room, plus an Overseas Railroad and steamship to Cuba schedule/advertisement poster leading down the hallway. Super spouse loves them too!
    <img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3113/2517916658_7ba51486ac.jpg"&gt;
    <img src="http://cache2.artprintimages.com/p/LRG/30/3075/AMVDF00Z/art-print/braniff-airways-manhattan-new-york.jpg"&gt;

    • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

      I never much liked History or English in HS but there were certain topics that piqued my interest. I got to do a report on aviation in the years between WWI and WWII and the Lockheed Vega like in the bottom picture really captivated me. It's my favorite prop plane that I knew about. A lot of the early records were broken in Vega, lots of firsts. Though I think that the artist might have taken some liberties in that last poster cause I think BI Vegas did not wear spats like the record breakers over the wheels.

  • Alff

    It's probably not the Armstrong-Whitworth FK-10

    <img src="http://www.koolhoven.com/history/airplanes/aw/aw-fk10.jpg"&gt;

    • MrHowser

      Sure doesn't look like it weighs a f***-ton.

      • Tiller188

        Ba-dum-psh.

        Took me a sec to get that one.

    • The Professor

      That thing reminds me of an anime airplane. If I can find what I'm thinking of, I'll post it.

  • earlofhalflight

    I can't really think of anything to top the Spitfire. I do however have a major crush on the Sunderland.

    <img src="http://i212.photobucket.com/albums/cc106/pondskater/213.jpg"&gt;

  • PowerTryp

    Does it have to be vintage? Cause I have a love for the Zivco Edge 540

    <img src="http://www.petemcleodracing.com/images/Pete-McLeod-Racing_Gallery_008.jpg&quot; width="500">

  • Beer_Rover

    It never flew, but it would be hard to top the Bugatti R100

    <img src="http://www.solatechnical.com/daisey-designs/bugatti/bug100-15.jpg&quot; width="300/">

  • Number_Six

    I've always loved the looks of the Westland Whirlwind:
    <img src="http://www.aviationtrivia.info/images/WestlandWhirlwind.jpg&quot; />

  • P161911

    How about props AND JETS! The B-36
    <img src="http://www.saceliteguard.com/images/sac_hist_015_x.jpg"width=500&gt;

    • The Professor

      Yeah, I thought about this big boy too. "Six turnin' and four burnin'".
      So many great planes! How can you just choose one?

      • P161911

        I had a chance to see one up close at the Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH. I remember it was HUGE. I think the landing gear used some of the largest tires ever made at that point. I just did some quick wiki-searching to see just how huge.

        Wingspan:
        B-36 230' 0"
        B-52 159' 4"
        C-5 222' 9"
        747-400 211' 5"

        I think it still comes in the top 5 for largest wingspan. These are bigger:
        <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/52/Giant_planes_comparison.svg"width=500&gt;

        • The Professor

          Cool post. It amazes me that the Spruce Goose still has the longest wingspan of any plane. What a waste that turned out to be.
          I've never been up close to a B-36, but I'd love to go see one someday. You guys who live near the Dayton museum are lucky.

          • My folks took the family to the USAF Museum on our vacation in 1975, the summer before 7th grade. One of my best days of my whole childhood. They actually rearranged our travel plans so I could stay until closing time.

          • P161911

            I was working a co-op job in Columbus, OH back when I was in college in the mid-1990s. I went over there one Saturday. I ended up going back a week or two later. That place had all the planes I saw in books as a kid. Oftentimes they were the EXACT same planes from the books. For example, they have a B-1A and THE MiG-15 a North Korean defector flew to South Korean.

  • ptschett

    I'm a big fan of the YB-49, but since that was jet powered the XB-35 will just have to do, warty centerline and all.
    <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0f/XB-35.jpg"&gt;

  • Tiller188

    Aw man, I'm kinda late to the party on this one…but this is a great question with some awesome replies!

    I've always had a soft spot for the Corsair, although like the P-61 above, I think it leans more towards badass/brutal than beautiful.

    <img src="http://www.world-war-2-planes.com/images/corsairturning.jpg"&gt;

    (And for more badassery, gotta love the F2G variant…a Corsair with a 28-cylinder R4360 "Corncob" radial!)

    And then there's the F7F Tigercat. For me there's just something about the long, narrow fuselage, the simple straight wings…and then the two (comparatively) huge nacelles to house a pair of big ol' P&W radials.

    <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/75/F7F-3P_Tigercat.jpg/300px-F7F-3P_Tigercat.jpg"&gt;

    The contrast is even more pronounced from the front:

    <img src="http://steeljawscribe.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/Grumman_F7F-3N_Tigercat.jpg&quot; width="500">

    I was lucky enough to see one of these racing at Reno (Big Bossman, if anyone's familiar) — even next to planes as pretty as all the Mustangs and Sea Furies racing there, it just looked (and sounded!) cool. You definitely felt like that particular plane was earning its name when you saw that big, twin-prop shape came screaming around a turn, down on the deck and right behind a smaller Mustang.

  • craigsu

    P-40 (Warhawk, Tomahawk, Flying Tiger)

    Alas, my image-fu sucks. I still can't seem to properly post images. Someone will have to help me out.

  • theTokenGreek

    a little bit of nostalgia for me… and the Navy still flies them! I believe the last new one was built in '73, and they're still used as the platform for primary training for (almost) all Navy pilots.

    [youtube fwDDRaHvIqg http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fwDDRaHvIqg youtube]

  • pj134

    Ok, as far as truly vintage, the Me-262 takes the cake.

    As far as other planes that are old and I think look awesome, a few of them right down the street for me are high on the list ( http://wingsoffreedommuseum.org/ ).

    One of the four remaining Sea Darts is especially cool to see:

    My absolute favorite for reasons unknown to me (probably because this is the wing that was always flying around my house as a kid (40 is kind of almost vintage, right?)):

  • Deartháir

    Yes, I know full well it’s a turboprop, so only technically correct, but we’d all be remiss if we didn’t mention just how bad-assedly beautiful the Herc is:

    Wait… no, that’s not what I meant…

    (Click to embiggen…)

    • BlackIce_GTS

      Well, if you want to get technical (and I do!), that's not a Hercules.
      I think this is though:
      <img src="http://www.ratemyscreensaver.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/01/usaf-flares2.jpg"&gt;

      • The Professor

        That isn't an AC-130 like your pic? It's based on the Hercules or C-130, right? So, it's improper to refer to them as a "Hercules" once the AC-130 mods have been made? Inquiring minds want know.

      • Deartháir

        I'm pretty sure you posted a photo from the same photoset — and of the same plane — as the one I posted. I'm not sure what distinction you were trying to make; forgive me, I think I'm missing your point. Enlighten, plz!!

    • The Professor

      Oh yes, well done. Rather than have the Spectre (or is it Spooky again?) firing flares, I prefer it when she clears her throat:

      <img src="
      http://www.talkingproud.us/Military/FallujahIntro/FallujahAirPower/files/ac130firing.jpg&quot; style="border:none;" alt=" " border="0" width="393">

      I tried to find a shot of the 105mm cannon firing, but no luck.

    • BlackIce_GTS

      Yours is identifiable as an AC-130 Spectre by the big guns sticking out the side, along with the mounting protrusions and some camera turrets. I have non-citation-having type sort-of certainty that Hercules refers only to the C-130 (and the L-100).
      Then again, ACH-47As are still Chinooks?, so maybe it doesn't work like that.

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  • sport_wagon

    I'm very late, but . . . BEHOLD! The J7W Shinden!

    <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e4/A_prototype_of_J7W_Shinden.jpg&quot; width="600">

    <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8e/J7w.png&quot; width="600">

  • texlenin

    I'll throw a couple in late, too:
    DeHavilland DH 84/89 Dragon/Dragon Rapide
    Hughes H-1
    Vought XF5U-1
    North American Rockwell OV-10 Bronco
    All of Charles Burnelli's aircraft
    Could one of you Dancing, Drunken Wu-Li Google Masters
    post some pics for me please, so's I don't anger the mighty
    Nibbles? Tanks

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    • CaptianNemo2001

      What? No XF-12 Rainbow http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thu
      It still cant be beat except by maybe Beech Starship or J7W Shinden.

      I local guy owns a Beech Starship and i was lucky enough to get close and see it at a fly in. The XF-12's were scrapped and were a stunning craft in any era.

      NEMO,

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