Historic: Iconic front covers

First ever Flight magazine cover Cody in his Flyer First ever Paris Air Show London from above The King's message Illustration aircraft in air, cavalry on ground illustration Fly BEA RAF's delta-winged Avro 707 Global Air Handley Page Herald 700 PIA Trident Hanover Show Report - Vinta of the sky Teal amphibious air test and cutaway drawing Concorde and Patrouille de France Boeing's Battlefield transport First launch of the Space Shuttle Boeing 767 in production Boeing 757 6 months in service report Countdown to Space Lab

Click on a front cover image to see that magazine issue


Over one hundred years ago, a new weekly aviation magazine hit the news stands, simply but appropriately named Flight. It has recorded every aviation milestone ever since.

That first issue, dated 2 January 1909, reported the exciting news that England could now boast that two of its citizens had now taken to the air, with the headline: "A second Englishman flies" - British aviation pioneer Mr J T C Moore-Brabazon on his Voisin biplane in France the previous month.

The original Editor’s claim was thus: “Our chief aims and objects being ever to throw our full weight on the side of all that seems to us to make for the highest permanent good of the aeronautic industry, to pursue a policy of entire independence, and to render our pages as interesting, concise and accurately instructive as lies within our powers..." More on this article.

Throughout the ensuing century and a bit, some of the world’s most important aircraft have adorned Flight International’s front cover, either as editorial covers or, for a large chunk of the magazine’s existence, as advertisements.

Many of these advertising covers are pieces of art in their own right, fascinating both from the context of a history of commercial art and aviation.

While Flight International’s front covers are chosen for a variety of reasons at the time – topicality, visual impact, how appropriate they are to a theme in the issue – the most memorable and collectable are those that picture an iconic aircraft (and usually, of course, a type only takes on the status of an icon long after the cover decision is taken).

So what makes an aircraft iconic – either at the time or in posterity? Flightglobal's Safety & Operations Editor, David Learmount suggests an aircraft needs to have a "recogniseable and classic design. A design that has never been seen before but also the aircraft needs to have established itself and proved its worth."

“When it's beautiful, it performs beautifully,", he says, citing examples of the Avro Vulcan, Spitfire, Hurricane, de Havilland Comet, Boeing 707 and Concorde.

However, he adds: “The Phantom is an ugly brute and performs with aggressive and brute power.” An iconic magazine cover is not just about the aircraft; it’s also about the composition, as Airline Business Editor Max Kingsley-Jones explains: "The strength of the actual image composition is central to an iconic cover, as well as the event it signals.

That’s why the "Concorde's final roar" front cover image works so well, for example." Iconic aircraft are usually rare, “beautiful”, noisy (or make a great sound), big on notoriety like the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 747, or have some enduring legacy such as the Spitfire and Avro Lancaster.”

Related Blog posts:

27 April 2011 -  Flight Blog: In the archive: Iconic front covers

28 April 2011 - Editor's Blog: Week on the Web

More iconic front covers:

Concorde - the final roar
One year at work for ERJ 145
Super Hornet
Kings message
First launch of the Space Shuttle
Cody in his flyer
Concorde and Patrouille de France
First ever Paris show
Cessna XLS flight test