Types of Airplanes

Aircraft · 7 min read · Mar 18, 2022
types of airplanes

The aviation industry has a very long history, and it is one that has evolved with the years into a very important area of human life.

What started with the dreams of the ancient civilization, and became a reality with the achievement of the Wright brothers, has now become an amazing industry where we can see a wide variety of airplanes types developed with the purpose of covering the specific need of the moment.

From helping us to move around the world to developing a global economy where goods can be traded around easily, different types of airplanes have found a place in our lives.

Are you ready to learn about some of the most interesting types of airplanes that you can find around the world? Keep reading as we share all the details about them.

Airplane flying over a large city with skyscrapers during the day.

How many types of airplanes are there?

Although a common and interesting question, this is a difficult one to answer since there is not a clear classification, there are some enthusiasts that dare to give some numbers.

For example, airliners.net says that according to their research there are 39,000 airplanes without including light aircraft. Also, they go on by saying that there have been around 150,000 throughout history.

What is true is that there are a lot now. Here below we want to shed some light on the most common and interesting types of airplanes. Covering them all is not really practical.

What are the kinds of aircraft?

This is perhaps a more reasonable question and one that we can answer more accurately.

First of all, it is important to understand that aircraft involve all vehicles that can fly by getting air support either by buoyancy or by the dynamic action of air on their surfaces. In other words, aircraft include airplanes but also other vehicles like helicopters, and even balloons.

Therefore, the kinds of aircraft can be placed in two general categories: lighter-than-air aircraft and heavier-than-air aircraft.

Lighter-than-air

While lighter-than-air includes such things as balloons, nonrigid airships also called blimps, and dirigibles, the heavier-than-air category includes the most common types of airplanes such as light jets, jumbo jets, cargo planes, among others.

Focusing on the second group, we can find different subcategories. For example, we could speak about jet aircraft like private jets, commercial jets, and military jets. Or we could speak about how they are classified in terms of the engines they use such as propeller planes, turboprop aircraft, piston aircraft, and those with gas turbine engines or jet engines.

Also, you could use the size of the body, like narrow and wide-body planes, or by the type of their wings, like the case of fixed-wing aircraft.

For the purpose of this guide, we are going to take a more general approach and share the most common and interesting ones of them all. Let’s get into it now.

Heavier-than-air aircraft

Fighter jets

As you can imagine, fighter jets are among the military aircraft, and they are the ones used by the air forces in air combat.

While these airplanes are not regularly seen by most people, they are a very interesting type. Costing billions of US dollars to develop, these jets are usually very fast reaching supersonic maximum speeds, and they have high levels of maneuverability. As you can expect, most of them take off from air force bases, but some of them can be launched from navy carriers.

Of course, while in combat, they usually fly fully armed, carrying any arms from machine guns to guided missiles or cruise missiles. Fortunately, these military aircraft are mostly used to train pilots in the air force.

A fighter jet FA18A Hornet flying in a blue sky.

Private jets

Private jets come in many forms, but especially in many sizes. So, to better describe private jets we will use their sizes.

Very light jets

Sometimes called by the acronym VLJ, very light jets are those usually containing seats for up to eight passengers at the most and only capable of covering short distances. But let’s not focus on the limitations only.

These jets are great business jets options for purposes like air taxi services. Since they are small and simple, they do not require an entire flight crew, but only a pilot. So, costs can be reduced, something critical for any business. The lightest business jets also come with decent fuel economy, making it a perfect choice for smaller business on domestic flights.

Light jets

The main characteristic for a jet to be considered a light jet is that it must have a maximum takeoff weight of 20,000 pounds (about 9100 kilograms).

Most light passenger jets can keep an average cruising speed of about 500 mph (about 805 km/h), which is at the same level as most commercial planes. This makes them a great option for private travel to distances longer than the ones a VLJ can cover, as these jet planes can carry passengers over 2,400 nautical miles or more.

Another difference with the very light jets is that light business jets are generally equipped with a dedicated lavatory compartment, and special technology including but not limited to a satellite phone, Wi-Fi, and XM radio communications. The latter makes it possible for passengers to take care of their business during the flight.

Mid-size private business jet ready for boarding.

Mid-size jets

The next step is mid-size business jets, which are bigger than a light jet but not as big as a jumbo jet.

This type of jet plane is large enough for 10 passengers to travel comfortably on longer flight routes, and it usually offers more luxurious equipment and amenities than smaller aircraft.

A mid size jet has average cruising speeds that are similar to those found in the previous type, but these have the ability to cover even longer distances, generally around 3,000 nautical miles.

While there are some considered super mid-size passenger jets, which offer higher speeds reaching about 580 mph (over 930 km/h) and longer distances covering up to 3,600 nautical miles, the standard versions are usually preferred because they tend to be more cost-effective and fuel-efficient while still offering the comfort of having enough luggage space and full stand up cabins.

Jumbo jets

Although many could think that this size is reserved for commercial jets used by airlines, the also called heavy business jets or just heavy jets as deemed by air traffic control towers are usually prepared to be VIP luxurious airplanes for big organizations or the wealthiest people in the world.

Apart from serving to show off how wealthy these people are, this type of airplane provides the opportunity to have full conferences while completing very long flights of over 6,000 nautical miles.

While airlines use these jets to accommodate even hundreds of passengers, as private jets it is more common to see accommodation for up to 18 passengers and take advantage of the remaining space to improve functionality and amenities for those passengers.

Private jumbo jets?

A good example is the iconic aircraft Air Force One, the presidential airplane of the United States of America where the president can have his team meet him and help him prepare before any important event in a foreign country.

A jumbo jet Boeing 747 ready for takeoff on a clear day.

Private propeller planes

While not exactly in the jet category, propeller planes are common among private airplanes. These options tend to be a good starting point for the aviation enthusiast before getting its first jet.

Also, due to the low operating costs and the possibility to cover distances in the 100-500 mile range, they are commonly leased for flight training purposes. What’s more, these planes are one of the most used vehicles in remote areas like Alaska, where road trips and other forms of transportation are difficult to use due to the nature of the region.

Turboprop airplanes

These could be considered a variation of the previous ones although the engines are more like those found on a jet.

One of the main differences is the ability to cover longer distances with a travel rating that exceeds 1,000 miles. However, turboprops have operating costs similar to a jet, which is why they are offered by leasing companies to customers that require longer hauls only. Otherwise, they would lease smaller aircraft.

A private propeller powered plane taking off.

Amphibious aircraft

As the name implies, this type of aircraft is one that can both land and take off from the water, usually from calm water masses like a lake. But they are not limited to water.

Amphibious planes have also been prepared to be used in snowy areas, and sometimes they have wheels that can be retracted, so they can either use the water or the ground to land.

Unfortunately, to achieve all these, aircraft is usually too heavy and maintenance becomes expensive as it needs to be more done more often. So, many airplanes in this category have already disappeared.

A type of airplanes: a yellow amphibious aircraft parked on a calm surface of water in the mountains.

Non-passenger aircraft

Cargo planes

While some jumbo jets and commercial airplanes can be transformed into cargo aircraft, there are some manufacturers that create jets specifically for cargo.

Cargo planes require as much space available as possible to carry as much cargo as possible, but also enough power and a design that is optimized to lift the large weight.

The largest airplane in the world, the Antonov An-225, was used for cargo missions to move supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic. With a maximum takeoff weight of 710 tons, and holding the record for total airlifted payload at 559,580 pounds, this airplane and its six engines could basically move any cargo. Unfortunately, it was recently destroyed during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Although some carriers will have their own cargo planes, most of them also prefer to lease them. The leasing industry offers a great number of advantages, and it is one that has been growing very quickly in recent years.

If you are interested in learning all about the process of financing the purchase of aircraft, and how leasing works, we invite you to enroll in our aircraft financing and leasing fundamentals course. And if you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us. We will gladly help you.

A type of airplanes: A FedEx cargo plane taxiing to the runway.

A quick look at other aircraft

Of course, there are many other types of airplanes and aircraft that we have not mentioned here. And many are very special ones.

For example, we could think of the rotary-wing aircraft also known as rotorcraft, which are propeller-driven airplanes with wings that rotate in the area where they have their propellers to navigate in a similar way as a helicopter aircraft.

Nevertheless, we already mentioned the number of types is huge, and we really wanted to focus on the most common or popular ones but still interesting for the aviation industry.

Moreover, we cannot imagine how many more will come in the future with aviation history showing us how quickly new ones can be developed. Perhaps we will see commuter aircraft run by commuter airlines. Or small jets that can go at twice the speed.

What is sure is that we will see other planes surfing the skies at maximum speed with new designs and new technologies that will amaze this and future generations in the years to come.

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Carlos Collantes
Carlos Collantes
A mechanical engineer and aviation enthusiast dedicated to share some knowledge by creating top-notch content, especially in engineering and aviation topics.

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