100 Greatest 21-50

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Source: Flightglobal.com
This story is sourced from Flightglobal.com

21 Engine:  Pratt & Whitney PT6 

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The ubiquitous PT6 has become the most popular turbine engine in history, appearing on innumerable executive, general aviation, regional and agricultural aircraft. Some variants are optimised for helicopter use.

Production of the PT6 by Pratt & Whitney Canada began in 1963, with the first platform for the powerplant the then-new Beech King Air 90 turboprop. The engine has dominated its sector of the world market for years.

The PT6 family splits in two, with the PT6 Small delivering outputs ranging from 580 to 920shp and the PT6 Large from 1,090 to 1,940shp.

New aerodynamic and material technologies have enabled the engine to gain more power without any significant increase in size while these and other innovations have reduced emissions and increased maintenance intervals. The PT6 family has accumulated more than 330 million flight hours.


22 Moment:  A380 first flight, 2005

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Almost 11 years after Airbus began work on what was then known as the A3XX, an estimated 50,000 spectators watched the first flight of the A380 from Airbus’ main production facility at Toulouse on 27 April 2005.

Possibly not since Concorde had a maiden flight attracted such attention. It is unusual for the mainstream media to turn out for the flight of a new aircraft.

The reasons were two-fold. Not only could they use the journalistic ‘hook’ for a lay audience of ‘the biggest airliner’ but they were also aware how important the A380 would be to the European airframe sector. 

The maiden flight of the Rolls-Royce Trent 900-powered aircraft lasted 3h 54m, with the sortie jointly captained by Claude Lelaie, senior vice-president of Airbus’ Flight Division and chief test pilot and vice-president Jacques Rosay.


23 Engine:  Bristol/Rolls-Royce Olympus

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The Olympus was first run in 1950, developing 44kN (10,000lbs) thrust. Its history mirrored changes in the post-war British aviation industry, starting as a Bristol design, before coming part of the Bristol Siddeley stable, then in turn passing to Rolls-Royce.

Four Olympus 101s became the powerplants for the Avro Vulcan, the UK’s third ‘V-bomber’, in 1956 and uprated variants of the engine powered the large deltawing bomber until the end of its service career in 1984.

Developed for sustained supersonic performance, the engine was slated to power the UK’s highly advanced but ill-fated TSR 2 strike reconnaissance aircraft in the early 1960s.

The Olympus was also used extensively as a marine powerplant (British frigate HMS Exmouth became first gas turbine-powered warship in a western navy), while an afterburning version, the Olympus 593, powered Concorde.


24 Moment:  Bell X-1 breaks the sound barrier

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As the speed of military aircraft increased during the Second World War pilots increasingly began to encounter control problems and buffeting when diving at high speed.

There was a popular belief (encouraged by some quarters of the press) that the properties of the air were akin to a physical barrier that would prevent an aircraft flying faster than sound – or even destroy it.

On 14 October 1947 a Bell X-1 piloted by Captain Charles ‘Chuck’ Yeager was dropped from underneath a B-29 parent ship over Muroc Air Base (now Edwards AFB). It climbed to 42,000ft and in the thin air Yeager found that his Machmeter, having climbed to M0.97, went off the scale.

Such was the secrecy surrounding the achievement that news of the success was not released for several months. Pilots may have inadvertently broken Mach 1 in dives prior to this date, so Yeager’s record is officially classed as being the first to break Mach 1 in level flight.


25 Person:  Antoine de Saint Exupery

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A pioneering aviator with a gift for writing, or one of France’s finest authors who happened to be a pilot? Saint Exupery transcends both categories.

A pioneer of early international mail flights in South America and Africa, he saw active service in the Second World War and was posted missing in action while on a reconnaissance flight from Corsica on 31 July 1944.

In 2000, French investigators confirmed that an F-5B reconnaissance variant of the P-38, discovered by divers off Marseilles, was Saint Exupery’s aircraft.

His literary works such as Courier Sud, Vol de Nuit and Pilote de Guerre draw heavily on his aviation experiences.

However, his best-known work, Le Petit Prince, is a mystical, philosophical children’s tale in which a pilot stranded in the desert (an experience that had befallen Saint Exupery in real life) meets a child prince from a tiny asteroid. It has become French literature’s most translated work.

26 Civil Aircraft:  Boeing 707

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The 707 established the classic configuration for airliners to come.


27 Person:  Wernher von Braun

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The German genius, Wernher von Braun, was behind the US’s missile and spaceflight programmes


28 Moment:  1948 Berlin Airlift

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A city of 2 million kept supplied solely by airpower for more than a year


29 Civil AircraftAirbus A320

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More than 3,700 built or on order


30 Military AircraftSukhoi Su-27

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Powerful, manoeuvrable, Russian export leader


31 PersonNeil Armstrong

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Test pilot, professor of aerospace engineering, first man on the moon


32 Military Aircraft:  NASA Space Shuttle 

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Making spaceflight routine, but with two tragedies against its name


33 Person:  Igor Sikorsky

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Russian-born pilot, entrepreneur, helicopter pioneer


34 Military Aircraft:  Messerschmitt Me262

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Powerful design: too little, too late


35 Military Aircraftde Havilland Mosquito

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Perfection in plywood


36 Moment: 1955 – ‘Tex’ Johnston barrel-rolls the 707

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Boeing President William Allen allegedly asked an airshow guest with a heart problem if he could borrow his pills


37 Military AircraftMcDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom

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Military muscle personified


38 Moment: 1952 – Comet first passenger jet service

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The false dawn of a new age


39 Moment:   2003 – Concorde last flight

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An elegy to elegance


40 Engine: Rolls-Royce Pegasus

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Making the jump-jet a practical aircraft

41  PersonGeoffrey de Havilland

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Moths, Mosquito, Vampire, Comet – any one would have sealed the company’s reputation


42 Moment:  1981 – First Space Shuttle launch

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A new era of reusable hardware


43 Military AircraftBoeing B-17

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Bristling with defensive armament


44 Person:  Prof Barnes Wallis

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The man behind the Wellington, the bouncing bomb and the planned Swallow swing-wing SST


45 Military Aircraft:  Avro Lancaster

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AV Roe’s masterpiece


46 EnginePratt & Whitney R-2800

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Radial reliability for the Thunderbolt, Hellcat and Corsair


47  PersonFreddie Laker

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Bringing low fares to the masses


48  Civil Aircraft:  Lockheed Constellation

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The epitome of post-war civil elegance


49 PersonAmelia Earhart

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Her disappearance remains as much a talking point as her achievements


50 EnginePratt & Whitney JT-3

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Power for the 707 and DC-8 

100 Greatest

Top 10 | 11-20 | 21-50 | 51-100

Top 5s

Civil Aircraft | Military Aircraft | Person | Moment | Engine

Through the decades

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