The Ugliest Planes of All Time

WE START WITH A QUOTE: “Who cares what it looks like?”

That was the sentiment of an emailer responding to my opinion that the Airbus A380 is possibly — no, wait, definitely — the ugliest commercial jetliner ever built.

“I spend my time inside the aircraft, not outside, he continues. “I don’t care what the A380 looks like. If it’s big, then maybe passengers will have more room and the economy class nightmare won’t be so bad.”

True, perhaps, on that latter point, but I’m having a hard time with the premise. I passionately submit that it does, absolutely, matter what the airplane looks like. Call me an old-fashioned romantic, but I like to think of the jetliner as something loftier — both literally and figuratively — than a mere vehicle, and thus deserving of the same aesthetic seriousness bestowed across a wide range of industrial design. Obviously this is nothing specific to aviation, but a point that speaks to design in general: do we not care what our bridges and skyscrapers look like, functionality aside?

Of course we do.

If you ask me, the emailer’s opinion is symptomatic of the public’s all but vanished appreciation for air travel. Flying has become so routine, and so uncomfortable, that few people stop to consider the impressiveness of soaring thousands of feet over the ocean, at hundreds of miles per hour, in a machine that cost tens of millions of dollars — in nearly absolute safety to boot. So what, the thinking goes. Just get me there quickly (and cheaply).

The industry, for its part — both plane-makers and the airlines — seems to be more or less comfortable with this attitude. In a lot of ways, a plane is only as attractive as the paintjob applied to it, and the state of airline liveries has never been more atrocious than it is right now. Aircraft themselves, meanwhile, have become so generic as to be indistinguishable from each other. In the old days, even at six miles out you could tell a 727 from a DC-9, or even the L-1011 from the DC-10, similar as they were. Nowadays, depending on the angle, you can be literally right next to a plane and not be certain which model it is.

The A380 aside, most latter-day planes aren’t ugly so much as boring. We recall the gothic lines of the 727 or the sleekness of the Concorde and Caravelle. Conventional wisdom holds that modern planes, by comparison, are uninspired because they have to be — that there’s something about aerodynamics and economy that necessitate a certain monotony of design. “Air does not yield to style,” are the words attributed to an Airbus engineer.

This is bollocks, and there are just enough state-of-the-art examples of great-looking planes to prove me right: the 777, the Embraer ERJ-145, the brand-new 747-8, and even Airbus’ own A340. If the rest are aesthetically bland, it’s because their designers didn’t take the efforts to craft them otherwise.

Leaving the A380 alone for a minute, let’s look at some other of my least favorite commercial planes, both new and old, big and small. In no particular order….

— The Airbus A320

The A320 was made because not enough people thought air travel was boring. Somebody once wrote — wait, it was me — that the plane looked like it popped from an Airbus vending machine, or hatched from an egg laid by an A380. The A320 has three equally inelegant siblings — the A318, A319, and A321– that are essentially the A320 baseline plus or minus a fuselage plug. This bland foursome has been Airbus’s biggest seller, with over 4,000 built, doing all they can to reinforce the notion that yes, flying is tedious and unexciting.

The Airbus A320.     Commercial flight at its most ordinary.

— The Lockheed Constellation

Help me out with this. For airplane buffs, talking trash about the Constellation is among the most grievous sins possible. Rarely is the vaguest slight directed at this legendary four-motor propliner of the ‘40s and ‘50s. But I just don’t get it. It started with my first and only sighting of the venerable Connie, in San Juan, in 1980. As the plane, ancient even 30-odd years ago, taxied past me, it appeared misshapen, wobbly, crawling along like an injured mantis. (The one I saw, a Dominican freighter registered HI-328, crashed the following year into the ocean near St. Thomas.) But maybe that’s it. The Connie, like some newer craft (the 767-300, for example), was victimized by a fish-out-of-water complex. On the ground it sat awkwardly, uncomfortably nose-high. Only when aloft did its grace become apparent. Or did it?

The Lockheed Constellation.    Photo by AirTeam Images

— The McDonnell Douglas DC-10

You may have heard that the Boeing 777 was the first airliner to be designed entirely on computer. What you probably didn’t know is that the DC-10 was the first to be designed with crayons and a wooden ruler. The problem revolves mostly around the tail. Although the DC-10 wasn’t the first jet to have three engines, the builders had no idea what to do with the middle one. Hurried to outpace their main competitor, the Lockheed L-1011, they flipped a coin and decided to wedge it through the vertical stabilizer. Lockheed took its time and developed a beauty; Douglas gave us this…

Tail of a National Airlines DC-10

— The Britten-Norman Trislander

Somewhere in the UK, a group of precocious fifth-graders saw pictures of the DC-10. Grabbing up scraps of plywood and lawn mower parts they shouted, “we can do worse!” A few days later they unveiled the Trislander, which promptly won fourth prize in the school’s show-and-tell science contest. Though you have to admit, the idea of a three-engine, piston-powered commuter plane is kind of neat. Or not.

The Brittan-Norman Trislander

— The Shorts SD-330, 360, and SC-7 Skyvan

Northern Ireland gave us Stiff Little Fingers, the great, long-forgotten punk band of the late ’70s and early ’80s. It also gave us the Shorts Brothers, known for their line of boxy commuter turboprops. I admit to a fondness for the 330 and 360 models. Sure they’re inelegant, but the design is so wonderfully utilitarian — and from certain angles the planes do maintain a certain grace and dignity. The Skyvan, however, is another story. Could you fly on one of these scaled-up child’s toys and still feel good about yourself in the morning?

The Shorts SD-330 and SC-7 Skyvan.   “Pigy” indeed

The CASA C-212 Aviocar

Here’s the answer to why the Spanish aerospace industry is second in global non-prominence only to its automobile industry. And the name… “Aviocar” is like “Airbus” (or “Skyvan”), only stupider. (We’re reminded of those fantastical flying car ideas of the 1950s. Someday we’d all be zipping around in our own “aviocar,” though who knew it would look like this?) Wait, the Spanish are major partners in the Airbus consortium too. Does the A380’s troubled DNA go all the way back to this contraption?

The CASA C-212 Aviocar

The VFW (Fokker) 614

Nobody knows what this plane, one of the few German commercial aircraft ventures, is supposed to be, exactly. Are the engines really on top of the wings, or was the plane built upside down around them? In either case, why? We’re told the unorthodox placement allows for shorter landing gear and perhaps a slightly lower wing, which in turn allow for a slightly bigger cabin and a bit more space for fuel or cargo, but some of us theorize the engineers were strung out on schnapps. The engines-on-top concept had the added bonus of reducing the plane’s noise footprint on the ground, while making things as loud as possible in the cabin.

The VFW-614.    Photo by Mick West

— The Antonov An-72

Things gets tricky when it comes to the Soviet planes. They were strange-looking machines, but many of them embodied a cool, Cold War sort of sensibility that could be, in its own way, darkly beautiful. The Tupolevs were my favorites. See the Tu-134, or best of all the apocalyptic Tu-114. This wasn’t the case, however, with the Antonov line. Most Antonovs were beastly, and there’s a special place in the Pantheon for the An-72. Let the picture do the talking…

The Antonov An-72

And so on.

I know, there are plenty more worthy candidates. But let’s just drop it.

One final point, though, about the A380: I agree that an airplane’s design, no different from that bridge or skyscraper, speaks to its era, and it’s important to temper one’s judgment with context. This does not apply to the A380, a plane whose ungainliness will, I assure you, prove timeless. It’s ugly now and will continue to be ugly 40 years from now.

 

Now this is only half the story, of course — albeit the fun half. Where, you’re asking, are the good-looking planes?

My affections for the Boeing 747 are well documented, but we shan’t neglect the 727, the Ilyushin IL-62, and that handsomest of old turboprops, the IL-18. A list for another time…

 

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68 Responses to “The Ugliest Planes of All Time”
  1. Stéphane L. Paré says:

    Constellation. I have to admit I never saw one on the ground, and the picture is the fisrt I see of this airplane. That being said, when I saw it I thought it looked awesome! It seems to be ‘swimming’ in the air; the curves of the plane brings images of whales to mind (anyway, to mine!) Looking forward to see the list of good looking planes.

  2. Bharani Padmanabhan says:

    ooh! painful to see two of my favourite designs on your ugly list – the DC-10 and the VFW-614. I am happy to note however the design of the VFW-614 is now refined into the HondaJet.

    Bharani

  3. Charlie the Mechanic says:

    What a great article. Yes, aircraft should be as beautiful to look at as they are amazing at what they do.

    The A380 is truly the ugliest thing in the air. The person you quoted as not caring what it looks like… just goes to show that flying to the public has become as utilitarian as riding a Greyhound bus. They have no idea of the romance of aviation, even today.

    The new Dreamliner is a bit of an odd bird, I think because it carries a bit of a different profile. It’s still beautiful, but a bit like a supermodel who’s eyes are just a little too far apart. Beautiful, but something is just a bit “off”.

    The 757-200. Another great looking airplane. What a hotrod.

    Heard a good joke about the Shorts Boxcars one time… that when the aircraft was delivered, they threw away the airplane and are now flying the box it came in.

    Thanks for a great column and website. I look forward to my first up close and personal with a 747-8i…

  4. Adam says:

    When it comes to best and beautiful, don’t forget the Starship. Perished because it was way ahead of it’s time.

  5. Larry says:

    Love the 727!

  6. Reza says:

    My opinion:
    The best-looking western-made plane is 747-SP
    The best-looking eastern-made plane is TU-154M
    The ugliest, I agree, A380 but probably due to a good reason, you have to extend upper-deck to allow 600+ people as the main fuselage cannot be extended after a critical point and by expanding upper-deck, by default you would get the ugly look.

  7. Siegfried says:

    I agree with the DC-10 and the Brittan-Norman Trislander being very unfortunate designs. I don’t know about the A-380 though. Sure it misses the nice lines of a 747 but I would not call it “ugly”. Just another of those new, uninspired designs. Like an A-320 in big. While there are reasons for the engine configuration of an DC-10, the VFW 614 just combines the disadvantages of all possible configurations. Notably the only “airline” in Germany ever flying the plane was the Luftwaffe where comfort is a secondary concern. I am missing the Cessna Skymaster though. Most push-pull configurations lack the elegance of the Dornier 335, but Cessna has brought the lack of a good design to a complete new level there.

  8. Tod says:

    Just a pity that the a380 is so nice to travel in. But I totally agree its as ugly as sin

  9. Simon says:

    As an American ex-pat living in Europe I can’t help but notice an extreme level of bias.

    Boeing = all great inspired designs, innovative yet iconic
    Airbus = dull & boring

    And yet Airbus sells just as many or more aircraft around the globe. Is that all just blunt anti-Americansim or is maybe high time my fellow citizens back home undertake a serious reality check? The 757 is sexy, no doubt. But sit in one of Delta’s old 757’s and you’ll immediately understand why paying customers love modern A320 cabins or the convenient twin window seats on an A333. You can trash talk foreign competition all day long, but around the world people are voting with their wallets. And your bias won’t save aviation in the US. It does, however, make you look rather shallow to the rest of the world who prefers to judge based on their own personal experience without blindly following a bias intended to distract from sub-par performance in a free market competition.

    • Patrick says:

      I have an anti-foreign bias? Me? I’m the one constantly raving about overseas airports, and about the service standards of foreign airlines compared to those in the US. But a spade is a spade: Boeing’s planes are better LOOKING than Airbus’s planes. Having that opinion doesn’t make me biased. – PS

      • Simon says:

        Selective perception. The A320 is nothing special, but neither is the 737. The 748 is for sure more sexy than an A388. But the A333 is way more elegant than the clunky 767.

        As always, things become less black and white when you start looking at details. So it comes as no surprise that at the end of the day you CANNOT generalize that Airbus are better looking than Boeing or the other way around.

        • Patrick says:

          I agree with you on the A320-v-737. Neither is very pretty, but I’ll give a slight edge to the 737. I partly agree with respect to the A330-v-767. The 767-300 is indeed clunky, but the -200 was a good-looking, well-balanced plane.

          But come on, look at the Boeing line from the 707 through the 787, and dare tell me that Airbus is playing in the same aesthetic league. It’s not close.

    • Randall says:

      Thanks for singling out the 757. Pilots (understandably) love ‘em, but they have too many seats and too long a range for a single aisle with hardly any toilets. Same thing for long-haul A321s.

      As for the A380, the photo shown cuts off the tail so you lose the full effect. But the true, beached-whale fatness of it is only apparent in the air. But it is nowhere near as ugly as the others in your collection. Merely ugly. Shouldn’t make the all-time top ten.

      BTW, Fokker was Dutch, and the company moved to the Netherlands permanently in 1919. He started the company in Germany only because his customer was the German military, but after they lost the war, he went home and went civil. Fokker’s only military builds after that were licensed copies of others’ designs, e.g., the Meteor and Zipper (F-104G).

  10. GeeBee says:

    The Britten-Norman Trilander was an expanded version of their Islander, which had a shorter body and no third engine. It was a decent-looking though kind of boxy little plane. A regional Scottish airline called Loganair used to use them in the 60s and 70s. They could use very small runways and even landed regularly on the beach on one island (Barra I think) making their schedule one of the few anywhere partly determined by high and low tide!
    Loganair (and this is very much hearsay I should add) had to fire a pilot, a WWII veteran, supposedly on grounds of age but unofficially because he was doing things like landing in farm fields so passengers wouldn’t have to get a taxi from the airport, and even using the Churchill Barriers in Orkney as runways. (URL http://maps.google.com/maps?q=Orkney+Islands,+United+Kingdom&hl=en&ll=58.871261,-2.912107&spn=0.007055,0.026157&sll=34.959208,-116.419389&sspn=2.863148,6.696167&oq=orkney&t=k&hnear=Orkney+Islands,+United+Kingdom&z=16 )

  11. Carlos Bonilla says:

    I agree that on the ground the constellation looked ungainly and awkward, since to clear the ground with the propellers it needed tall longing gear. More a limitation of props vs. jets than a design question.. But it’s flowing curves make it seem elegant ( to me) when in the air. The continuous curves, however, made it expensive to produce compared to a plane with a straight fuselage — no two parts of the barrel were alike and each needed their own tooling.

    Am I right in thinking that the triple tail was to keep it low enough to use existing hangars or production facilities?

  12. Chris says:

    Simon:

    Whether or not an aircraft sells around the globe is in small part due to its aesthetic nature. Airlines are not concerned with how pretty passengers will think the plane is. And they are right because passengers generally don’t care. So I don’t think pointing out global sales somehow validates the argument that Airbus make a more attractive airliner. Marketing and politics play far bigger roles.
    Furthermore it is the air carrier that determines the inside seating arrangement.

  13. callsign says:

    I’m a little late to the party, but I’m going to put in my two cents anyway, just because I can!

    Thank you Patrick for FINALLY calling out the Connie for what it is. I much much prefer the B-377 Stratocruiser which may have had the bulbous nose but at least carried a ramp presence just not found in the Constellation.

    I will take the DC-10/MD-11 straight shooting #2 ANY DAY over the oopsie doopsie curvy shmurvy L-1011. I shudder at the sight of the Lockheed, but the DC-10 just evokes a practical get-it-done strong attitude. I love it!

    Finally, the A-380 is a monster. However, the A-340 and 330, especially when viewed from directly behind have such wonderful and beautiful curvy wings that are just so evocative in a feminine sense it just screams French Lady. Airbus may have made the 320 generic and the 380 eye-popping but the two others just sing.

  14. Skyhook says:

    OK, so the Connie looked like it was going to fall over when on the ground. But actually flying, suffering cats, so s m o o t h.

  15. JAFD says:

    Hello, Captain Smith! Love your writing.

    On the Constellation – As one who remembers summer evenings on the outdoor observation deck at Philadelphia International in the 50’s, well, compared to the DC-6’s and 7’s, Electras and Viscounts of that era, it was a strikingly attractive aircraft.

    BTW, has it occured to anyone that in that era, when the average airline passenger was, even more likely than now to be a middle-aged man, and stewardesses were hired out of high school and expected to quit when they got married or at age 25, whichever came first, that hauling them around the country in a plane named for a girl that _really_ loved her Daddy, was a weird idea ?

    • Rod says:

      “Compared to the DC-6′s and 7′s, Electras and Viscounts of that era, (the Constellation) was a strikingly attractive aircraft.”

      WHAT??!! The Viscount was stupendous!

      • Patrick says:

        The Viscount and Vanguard both were good-looking planes — the latter especially. I need to stick up for the Electra also. Like the IL-18, it had a certain utilitarian handsomeness that I always liked.

        DC-6 and DC-7 were goofy-looking in comparison to any of these. But that’s not an entirely fair comparison, since they were piston-powered machines of a previous generation.

  16. Bill K says:

    In defense of the AN-72, it’s a matter of form following function. The AN-72 is a STOL aircraft and it uses the Coanda effect to improve STOL performance. This requires that engine exhaust gases be blown over the top of the wings, thus the placement of the engines. The Boeing C-17 also uses this effect.

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  18. BaconWings says:

    “…well its a big, pretty white plane with red stripes, curtains in the windows …wheels …and it looks like a big Tylenol”

    But the A380 is a big, UGLY Tylenol. Good point Patrick – the cookie-cutter A320 family and that sin-of-a-design A380 hail from the same company that produced the super-sexy A340 – a look I love almost as much as the 727. I’ve admired and traveled happily on the 340 many times (and have a nerd-fleet of them all in great liveries in FSFX.)

    I have to respectfully disagree about the Connie. While certainly awkward on the tarmac, once wheels-up and in its true element, it transforms its ungainly stork-like stance into a classic, sculpted beauty! I think that may always be the argument for the Connie. But the Shorts always fascinated me as in, “How the hell can that can of soup possibly battle gravity?” But the fact it does is at least interesting (a have a few Shorts in my nerd-fleet too.)

    I can agree wholeheartedly with the 747 and ever-sexy classic 727. Remember the cool ‘Lawn Darts’ game (before they were rightfully outlawed via massive injuries and litigation?) The wicked beautiful Boeing 727 tri-tail with the pointy-nose always reminded me of those. Maybe it’s my 70’s childhood thing! (Plus how cool are rear stairs and those multifaceted shape-shifter wings?! Oh so cool bird-of-prey at any speed or standing still…)

    As always, thanks for the article Patrick and I can’t wait to see what you say about the lifting of the restrictions on pocket knives (less then 1/2″ wide while box-cutters, the choice of all terrorists in any form, are still prohibited – who thinks of this stuff?) Oh wait, I already know what you think

    Yours,

    JM. Bacon

  19. Rod says:

    No accounting for taste (though I defy anyone to defend the A380 on esthetic grounds).

    I totally disagree about the DC-10 — a very sexy machine.

    Agree with Charlie that there’s something just a bit off about the 787. And it’s the eyes.
    Also agree with Charlie about the 757 — gorgeous eyes.

    The Constellation is as weird in the air as on the ground. I live near where one of the two remaining airworthy examples is based. Man, does it lumber.

    One of the reasons many Soviet-era machines look strange is because of the glass nose (the TU-134 being an example). But the Soviet Union was so freaking enormous, with so few nav aids around, that it was best to give the navigator a decent view.

    • Patrick says:

      I’d have stayed quiet had you chosen any other adjective in your defense of the DC-10. “Sexy,” though, is too much.

      Not that there wasn’t something cool about the DC-10. And certainly it was distinctive, which is more than you can say about most planes nowadays. But sexy?

      I agree with you and Charlie about the 787. The problem, I think, is the tail. It’s too small for the rest of it, and its odd curvature makes the plane look… well, fishy.

      • Rod says:

        Oh well, erotic perception is a very complex matter. I was a teenage plane-nut when it came out, and it excited me. At my present age I’d settle for uhh.. fascinating.

        Have we neglected the Beechcraft 1900 in this discussion? That seems unfair. Could have been an Airbus product by the looks of it.

  20. Old Rockin' Dave says:

    I grew up, and once again live, in an area of Long Island that sees traffic to LaGuardia, JFK, Islip MacArthur, and Republic, and used to see traffic to Grumman, Roslyn ANG, and a number of smaller airports. When I was a kid, there were still plenty of prop-driven airliners overhead and I can confirm that a Constellation in flight is a beautiful sight to behold.
    I have often heard it said that “looks right, flies right”, and it seems to be true for fighter aircraft. It certainly holds true for a P-51, a Spitfire, a Hawker Hunter, or an F-4 Phantom, among others. I don’t know how true it is for commercial planes.

  21. Marshall says:

    You’ve got to add the BAC 1-11 to the ugly list, especially the version with the hush kits on the engines. Stubby landing gear, inelegant wing, uninspiring face, and like the 787, a vertical stabilizer that’s a size too small. I think the 1-11 has benefitted from fond memories of US Air flying them out of Dulles, but that plane is a beast.

    While you’re at it, throw in the Breguet Provence, the Ford Trimotor (the way you feel about the Connie, I feel about the Trimotor), and the Fokker F27. I think the Tu-154 falls on the “ugliest” side of the ledger, but I always figured one had to be Russian to appreciate the aesthetic.

    • Don Murray says:

      When I worked at Allegheny (since renamed to USAir and then US Airways), we were converting from Convairs to BAC 1-11s and DC9s. In those days the nonsmoking sections were the last 6 rows in the back of the plane near the engines which were LOUD.

      Nevertheless, the jets were a much nicer flight than the props.

  22. Marshall says:

    As for the 737 vs. A320, I agree that the A320 is a dull design that epitomizes the “air bus” name. However, the 737-200 through -600 series is uglier. I don’t think any of them deserve to be on the Top 10 list, but they are nonetheless uglier than the A320. They look like guppies with wings. The 707 nose and flight deck section has never been flattering on the 737’s short airframe. The smushed engine nacelles are an obvious, what-do-we-do-now fix so that high bypass turbofans could be slung under the wings without redesigning the gear – an issue that now plagues the MAX. Also, the APU exhaust port gives the 737 a big butt, though not as big as the 747’s.

    The -800 and -900 series are an improvement, but I was disappointed when Boeing announced it would offer the MAX instead of a more refined-looking narrowbody replacement. It’s too bad we’ll be stuck with another generation of 737s deep into the 21st century.

  23. chris conklin says:

    Patrick-seriously? The Connie? I’ve always thought that to be the most beautiful airliner ever built. In 1990 I was lucky enough to ride jumpseat on the SAC at Oshkosh, one of the highlights of my career. I will admit, a beat up, POS Caribbean freighter, taxiing at SJU might not be seeing this airplane in it’s best light.

    Other than that, keep up the good work!

  24. Peter Voetsch says:

    Don’t forget the VC 10. That was a beauty. 4 tail mounted engines! Very cool. One of the very few jet airliners I never flew (and I flew on the Convair 880 and 990).

  25. Pete says:

    The 737 is the ugliest plane imaginable. It has a pointy nose, is short and chubby and its tail wing has a weird connection to the top of the plane. And yet the A320 appears on the list and the 737 doesn’t?

  26. JS says:

    That paintjob on the Trislander is a thing of wonder all on its own. Really deserves a separate mention, maybe even an award of some kind? Also, the 320 is nothing great, but does really belong in such exalted company? Either way, great piece—look forward to the list of good-looking planes. Cheers.

  27. Paul L. says:

    What about the DC8 63? So elegant and thin, still able to carry 250 people.
    A380 ugly? it’s a matter of taste. it’s very subjective.
    I think the big mistake is that the A380 is not a US made aircraft.

    • Patrick says:

      True, there’s no accounting for taste… to a point.

      As for your point about the A380 not being American-made, neither was the Concorde, or the A340, or the IL-62, just to name three… all pretty aircraft.

  28. NB says:

    @Pete: I agree absolutely with you about the 737. I think the A320 series is dull, but the 737 series is downright ugly. It sits too low to the ground, the engine shape is all wrong (at least from the -400 onwards) and the tail plane triangular connector-thing is plain ugly, making the whole beast seem squat and utilitarian. By contrast the A320 series is quite svelte.

    The rot started, in my opinion with the 757/767 series, which were unadorned twin engine planes, joined by the A300s. Then came the A320s, A330s and the 777 – basically all the same essential shape but different sizes and, perhaps, different ends to the wings. For the passengers merely catching a glimpse of the thing from the jetbridge, it really was a question of how big is my bus today.

  29. A380 lover says:

    You are so wrong about the a380
    It is not ugly, it is streamlined, even more streamlined than the 747

  30. Nicolas Bovay says:

    In my opinion.

    Most beautiful: VC-10, CV880, CV990, DC8, DC9, DC10, B707, B727, B747, B757, Caravelle, TU104, TU134, TU144, TU154, 1L62, Concorde, A340, Comet.

    Most ugly: B737, B767, B777, B787.

  31. fatguyfromqueens says:

    Coming to this thread ultra-late but so what.

    Totally agree with you Patrick about the A380. I’ve struggled to figure out precisely *why* it is so ugly. It isn’t just big, a 747 is big, but rather it seems like it is too big for its skin, almost like a fat person trying to fit into a T-shirt that he should’ve given up trying to wear about 20 pounds ago. A 747 (or even a C5 Galaxy) never gives that impression.

    I’m glad someone mentioned the VC-10 as an example of a beautiful plane, but alas Britain’s 727 analog, the Trident, is not in that category. To my mind it looks ugly. I can’t put my figure on what makes it ugly compared to the 727 but put them side by side, and there is no doubt which is more handsome.

  32. Fragman88 says:

    Lovely thread, I agree with everything said. The Constellation in particular needs to be seen an heard in display flight, Bit of an Ugly Duckling on the ground.

    I did both F27 and F28 courses at Fokker’s factory in Schipol many moons ago (another place to check the tides, elevation -8, in storm season, check the Dykes are still holding the North Sea back).
    At this time the Fokker VFW 614 was being tested with poor results, with predictable `discussion’ between Fokker and VFW over whose idea it was in the first place.
    Not a bad idea, lower wing, shorter( lighter and stronger) gear. Lots of ground effect for low touchdown speed, so no need for reversers, and engines on top for no FOD on the rough strips it was designed for (Mounted a little too far above the wing for serious Coanda gain, but that was in its infancy then). I still have the graduation ties featuring all three, presented to us by the inimitable Jan Mol, Chief Test Pilot with the words `Gentlemen, I give you the Friendship (F27) the Fellowship (F28) and the Failureship (VFW614)’.

    The 747 has to be my favourite looker, but I have too many hours on her not to be biased, and yes she flies like she looks, beaten only by the F28 in handling. After nearly 15,000 Hrs, I’m an absolute believer in `If it looks right it’ll fly right’.

    On good looking design stables, although on smaller A/C, have look at some pictures of Hawker aircraft over the years, Hunter, Harrier, HS125, and then skip to the latest Bizjet offerings from Beech/Hawker in the US. Look at the profile from the nose to the tip of the tail, and absolutely graceful signature profile, maintained for all these years.

    On a final design observation, the nose of the A/C is a pretty important bit to get right in terms of drag, so have a look at the B787 front end, presumably designed by a Cray computer or two. Then go back and look at the Caravelle and Comet, both done with a pencil and a slide rule in the 1950s.

    My jury’s still out on the 787, but Emirates bring a 380 over my house every day and it doesn’t get any better looking. But it’s very quiet, even going BNE-DXB. They have that bit right, thanks GE.

    On general design

  33. Harrow says:

    I am an American of primarily Italian descent, with some French ancestry.

    As an Italian, I delight in the shape of craft like the Supermarine Spitfire and the Boeing 747. Obvious creatues of the air, every line and curve befits their purpose. There is nothing there that detracts from the message: but release me and I will soar.

    But as an American, I find a certain aesthetic treasure in a contraption that looks like an accident and then suddenly leaps to life and performs its primary purpose. To watch a Kamov Ka-26 actually leaving the ground from a cold start is to enjoy a series of improbable surprises. It works! Bozhe moi, it’s flying!

    I place aircraft such as the Shorts SC-7 Skyvan and the venerable Antonov AN-2 closer to the surprising end of the spectrum. They look ugly, but they fit their purposes beautifully. I guess I’m trying to say that attractiveness in a craft is not one-dimensional, and you can’t always say that one aircraft is more visually pleasing than another.

    Finally, as a Frenchman I am compelled to remark that, pretty or not, the Trislander looks like a Chihuahua humping a Dachshund.

  34. Paul says:

    I agree the A320 is boring, but the A319 and A318 are cute little things!

  35. Dave says:

    Some of our esthetic comes from more than just visual impression – we bring our experiences to the equation. My first airliner ride was in a United DC-8, a minor traveling alone, so first class. Invited into the cockpit at altitude. Three impeccably-dressed flight crew, thousands of gauges, buttons, and leavers, and wispy clouds hitting the windshield at nearly the speed of sound. Presented with a wings pin, and escorted back to my seat by the captain. As a result, I hold the DC-8 in very high regard, but objectively I’d call it ordinary.

    In general, since you asked: Most Boeing and Airbus models-splitting hairs, who even cares?. Beautiful: 727, 747. Ugly: 737, A380.

  36. […] the oddness of that middle engine lands the DC-10 a spot on my “Ugliest Planes of All Time” list. It was as if the engineers weren’t sure what to do with it, and with time running out […]

  37. andre says:

    A320 ugliest plane ever.Ugly ugly ugly. Looking on the planes on the runway, I saw a A320…pff just another fat,boring and ugly A320. When I fly I don’t know why I’m happier to get into a 737 even if it is older. Not an Airbus fun …..
    I think Airbus is designed to do what the title said. Nothing but an air bus.

  38. Adriano says:

    Altough i agree very much about the heavi ugliness of the A380, in my opinion Airbus succeeded designing a beauty with the new A350, the first Airbus who looks slender and “light” in all its lines.

  39. Angelo says:

    I agree that the A320 series is just bland. A380 looks like a nearsighted bald fast guy. Lockheed Constellation is a beautiful machine. The DC-10/MD-11 are quite gorgeous. The L1011 had a weird looking back end. The list of mossy beautiful planes will have mostly obvious choices. My vote will go to the DeHavilland Comet. I’m aware of its checkered safety record, but chalk that to lack of experience for designers.

  40. Ung Grabb says:

    A380 has its problem in the nose section, the small cockpit windows on that nose makes it look, well sinister, they should have put a second row o windows for the top floor in the plane, done something a bit wild. Or maybe experiment a bit with paint schemes to dull that huge boring white expanse about the front of the plane.

  41. Mike Walsh says:

    Nice article. Funny. Too bad the blog site really blows and doesn’t allow the article to be shared (like one would expect in 2014). SMH…

  42. Mark Maslowski says:

    I agree with you Patrick. I always though that the Connie was built with extra curves just to have extra curves. Never looked quite right. And the 787’s tail really does look wrong. However, the real offenders in the ugly aircraft world are the ATR 42 and 72. Those things look like they were put together from totally unrelated spare parts and in a real hurry. When compared to something like the sleek Embraer 120 (although not nearly as pretty as its cousin the RJ145), they look like they shouldn’t even be able to fly!

  43. John says:

    The A320 in my mind is the worst looking plane of the modern jet age. Furthermore the A-318 looks like it should only have a license to carry the cast of Toy Story from one end of the kids room to the other, with the wheels never leaving the carpet. When comparing the 318 & 319 to the sleek new Mitsubishi Regional Jet you see where cutting off chunks of an already ugly plane is the laziest and of course cheapest design choice ever. That said, I’m not an Airbus hater and I find both the A330 and A340 to be beautiful planes with elegant lines. Though the A350 does not even come close to the 787 aesthetically. Where the 787 looks strong and graceful, the 350 seems delicate yet efficient.

    My vote for ugliest plane though was not on your list. I nominate the Dornier 228. I first saw it in the movie The Darjeeling Limited and thought it looked reminescent of 1984 Yugo dressed up like Big Bird.

    Lastly, the guy who says he doesn’t care what a plane looks like is also the same guy that wears socks with sandals and covers up hardwood with carpet.

    • Patrick says:

      I agree with you on the A320, more or less. In my book I describe the A319/A320 as looking like “something you’d buy from an Airbus vending machine, or that hatched from an egg laid by an A380.”

      As to the “cutting off” to create the A318 and A319, I see your point, though this basic technique — the adding or removing of fuselage segments has been the standard for decades when it comes to creating variants of mainline models. Remember the 747SP for instance (yes, I know, it had many other enhancements too), and the different DC-8s. The 727-100/200, the 767 200/300, and so on.

      I’ve always been fond of the A340, and the A330 has grown on me somewhat. It’s not a bad-looking plane.

      • John says:

        Yeah lengthening and shortening planes is definitely predicated on the original. Good design usually begets better or equal to. I think planes like the 777 and 767 get sexy at the -300 length and In the other direction I daydream the SP is the only airliner with enough overwhelming power and buttresed frame to complete multiple barrel rolls.

        I’m exicited to finally get the opprotunity to cross the 747 off my list next week. After a few VAtlantic A340 rides (KLAX-EGLL) I made sure to catch the daily 747 run this time. Then in Dec I’ll complete all the major jets with the A380 (AF) on the way to Berlin. As Baluega-y as it is I’m still very curious about flying in one.

        Speaking of big jets I really can’t fathom why the A380 has found a niche while the most beautiful pass jet ever made, the -8, has not. The only thing I can think is that company’s figure if they are going to go big they might as well go big as possible. Such a shame, but at least two good airlines will keep it going for a while and hopefully more in the future.

  44. Ray says:

    A friend sent me this link to read ,
    All I can say is what a lot of crap from a bunch of whingers with nothing else to do ,
    Get a life people .

  45. Roberto Blanc says:

    The ugliest are the Tupolev 104 and 114. They are so ugly that the Dc 1o looks incredibly beautiful.
    And worse, but much worse, the Avro York,

  46. Brian Reynolds says:

    RE DC-2 #2 Engine

    The story told within Douglas Commercial was that both Lockheed and Douglas wanted to minimize maintenance costs by removing one engine from the 747 design; however Lockheed got the patent on the S-duct and wouldn’t license it to Douglas.

    Also part of that story is that only the RR-211 engine which had a short core, would fit the L-1011 because of the tight fit into the fuselage. When Rolls had problems with the fan failing the bird test and certification was delayed, the DC-10 could be fitted with either GE or PW engines (which were not constrained by length) and still be delivered while the L-1011 sat on the ground in Palmdale waiting until the RB-211 engine was approved.

    I also remember being told that the “banjo” fittings used to couple the #2 engine to the fuselage were the largest titanium forgings ever made and were machined from the original 4,000 pound forging to the final 400 pound fitting weight.

  47. nianbo says:

    which do you think is better looking Pat? the 777 or the a340.

  48. Will says:

    The A330-200.

    Stellar.

  49. Doug Vernon says:

    Never trust the judgement of a guy who calls a Constellation ugly…on the ground or not!
    You want to see an ugly aircraft? Try the Junkers 87 “Stuka” dive bomber. This howling banshee was not only ugly, it was a flying nightmare! However, I still see the beauty in its wicked design.

    D. Vernon
    San Diego, California
    United States

    Postscript:
    Want to know what really cranks my drive shaft? Like it or not I’ll tell ya. It’s people who ask me if I’m human or not…or ask for a password…etc..etc..etc…or ask for a URL what ever the hell that is!