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My Top Ten Fictional Aircraft

As an author, one of my favourite things about writing is putting my characters in the cockpit of fictional aircraft. There’s something fascinating about being able to imagine “what if?” and then write it.

So it was great fun for me to research my favourite fictional aircraft, their real-world inspirations and their appearances in movies and novels. And in the end I narrowed it down to a top ten.

Honourable Mentions

First, the aircraft that didn’t make it into the top ten. It was hard to pick a top ten because there are more than ten iconic fictional aircraft. Here are the ones that didn’t make it, along with comments on why I didn’t include them.

  • Dropship from Aliens—a brilliant design, but in the end it’s more spaceship than aircraft.
  • Sky One from UFO—I love the design, but Gerry Anderson already has two entries in the top ten.
  • EB-52 from Flight of the Old Dog—cool, but barely fictional, given that it’s a mildly upgraded B-52.
  • Rocket plane from The Man in the High Castle—nice idea, but in the TV series they look almost exactly like Concorde, which isn’t very imaginative.

Now, on to the top ten.

10th Best Fictional Aircraft: Hunter-Killer

Top Ten Best Fictional Aircraft: Hunter Killer from Terminator

In Terminator, the hunter-killers are Skynet’s ground-attack aircraft, armed with multiple lasers, missiles, and plasma cannons. There are several variants: patrol craft massive and heavily armed bombers and troop transporters.

9th Best: SHIELD Helicarrier

SHIELD Helicarrier

Speculative fiction seems to have a perennial fascination with flying aircraft carriers. The British have a fleet of them in the dieselpunk movie, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. There’s the Cloudbase in Captain Scarlet and there’s the Valiant in Doctor Who, to mention just a few.

But the coolest looking flying aircraft carriers are the SHIELD helicarriers from Marvel’s Avengers movies. They play a particularly prominent role in Captain America: Winter Soldier.

8th Best Fictional Aircraft: Batwing

Best Fictional Aircraft: Batman's Batwing

There have been a lot of Batplanes, ever since Batman first appeared in comics. The very first was a sort of autogyro. The latest was ‘The Bat’ from The Dark Knight Rises.

My favourite though is the Batwing from the 1989 Batman movie, especially for its appearance in the iconic shot above.

7th Best Fictional Aircraft: T-47 Snowspeeder

Fictional aircraft: snowspeeder

In the Star Wars franchise, T-47 airspeeders are ground attack aircraft. The Rebel Alliance modified some airspeeders to suit the extreme cold of the planet Hoth and called the cold-adapted aircraft ‘snowspeeders’. The rebels equipped their snowspeeders with lasers and a harpoon.

The snowspeeder first appeared in the opening sequence of The Empire Strikes Back, with Luke Skywalker using a snowspeeder’s harpoon to bring down heavily armoured Imperial transporters.

6th Best Fictional Aircraft: Kirov Airship

Fictional Aircraft: Kirov Airship from Red Alert 2

An establishing shot of an airship has become a standard shorthand in movies for “this is an alternate world”, and their widespread usage is seemingly mandatory in any alternate history novel.

Amongst other examples, airships feature in Jules Verne’s novels, Blade Runner, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Watchmen, Doctor Who, the His Dark Materials trilogy, Wolfenstein, Mortal Engines, The Peshawar Lancers, Iron Sky, World War Z and Bioshock Infinite.

My favourites though are the Kirov armoured zeppelins in the Red Alert games. The Kirov are heavy bombers with the immortal line as they flatten your carefully built-up base in a rain of high explosive: “Kirov reporting”.

5th Best Fictional Aircraft: Aurora Spyplane

Fictional Aircraft: Aurora Spyplane

The Aurora is a curious fictional aircraft, because it didn’t become popular because of a movie or novel, but as the result of a conspiracy theory.

In 1985 the USA included an allocation of $455 million for ‘Project Aurora’ in its budget for secret projects. This rose to billions of dollars in the late eighties. There was also a mysterious jump in the USA’s fighter codes, from F-18 to F-20, prompting more speculation.

So, during the mid-1990s when people observed unusual contrails and sonic booms over both the USA and UK, it seemed like the Aurora was real. Some people thought it might be a reconnaissance aircraft to replace the soon-to-retire SR-71 Blackbird. Rumour had the Aurora powered by pulse-wave-detonation engines and capable of over five times the speed of sound.

It’s possible that the Aurora was a technology demonstrator for the recently announced Lockheed Martin SR-72, which resembles the rumoured appearance of the Aurora. Lockheed Martin has also claimed their hypersonic (Mach-5+) technology is ‘mature’.

The Aurora plays a major part in my novel Angel in Amber, and Matthew Reilly mentions it in Area Seven.

4th Best Fictional Aircraft: Angel Interceptor

Fictional Aircraft: Angel Interceptor

In Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, the Angel Interceptor is a single seat, vertical take-off, jet fighter aircraft.

Earth’s security organisation, Spectrum, maintains three Angel Interceptors at high readiness on their flying aircraft carrier, Cloudbase, ready to counter any Mysteron incursions. A squadron of five female pilots (codenamed Destiny, Harmony, Melody, Rhapsody and Symphony) pilot the Angel Interceptors.

Another one from Gerry Anderson, and the Angel Interceptor certainly looks the part.

3rd Best Fictional Aircraft: Avro Vanquish

Alternative History Vehicles: Avro Vanquish

In my novel A Kill in the Morning, the Avro Vanquish is a supersonic bomber developed from the earlier Avro Vulcan. It utilises upgraded Bristol Siddeley Olympus engines fitted with an afterburner to give almost double the power of the original Vulcan engines. The Vanquish flies at Mach Two (one thousand three hundred miles per hour) with a combat ceiling of fifty-eight thousand feet. Its primary operational payloads are the Blue Danube nuclear weapon and the Grand Slam earthquake bomb.

In reality, Avro had a project for a supersonic Vulcan, known as the Avro 732. However, the Mach-three-capable Avro 730 project superseded the supersonic Vulcan. Later, the Avro 730 was itself cancelled in favour of ballistic missiles.

2nd Best Fictional Aircraft: Mig-31 Firefox

MiG-31 from Firefox Movie

In the novel Firefox, by Craig Thomas, the Soviet Union has developed a revolutionary new fighter, the MiG-31 ‘Firefox’. The Firefox flies at five times the speed of sound, is invisible to radar, and its pilot controls the weapons by thought. Because of defence cuts, the West is ten years behind, and their air defences are now obsolete. In desperation, Britain’s MI6 makes a plan to steal the Firefox and fly it to the West. There, they hope to reverse-engineer the Firefox and catch up again.

See my Firefox Book Review for more details.

Best Fictional Aircraft: Thunderbird 2

Top Ten Best Fictional Aircraft: Thunderbird 2

In Thunderbirds, Thunderbird 2 is International Rescue’s heavy equipment transporter, able to carry a variety of rescue vehicles in its interchangeable pods. Virgil Tracy—the most artistic of the Tracy brothers—flies Thunderbird 2, sometimes assisted by other members of the team.

The most iconic Thunderbird, and my personal favourite of all the fictional aircraft here.

A Kill in the Morning

If you enjoy reading about fictional aircraft in action, you’ll love A Kill in the Morning. For more details of the various alternative history aircraft it features, see Aircraft in A Kill in the Morning.

You can read the opening of the novel for free by clicking here or on the cover:

A Kill in the Morning by Graeme Shimmin

What do you think?

If you think I should include other fictional aircraft in my top ten, then please email me. If you like these ones then please feel free to share them using the but­tons below.