There are so many types of aircraft out there, including military and civilian models. Some are rare models, while others were mass-produced in the thousands. Which aircraft dominated historical airplane and helicopter production?
Many of the most-produced aircraft are military planes. War efforts, particularly massive wars such as World War Two, galvanize industrial production and divert civilian resources toward making weaponry including aircraft. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some civilian aircraft that were produced in the thousands.
The United States dominates worldwide aircraft production, but other countries also had powerful production industries, particularly the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, who were unmatched in terms of military production.
Without further ado, here is a list of the most produced aircraft of all time. To determine this list, we used total production numbers while the aircraft was in operation.
15. Beechcraft Bonanza (17,000+)
The Beechcraft Bonanza, a small utility airplane, is the longest continuously produced aircraft in history. Since 1947, Beech Aircraft Corporation has produced over 17,000 of these versatile planes.
The Beechcraft Bonanza emerged when the post-war aeronautics industry turned towards the civilian sector. It was innovative in the field of small aircraft thanks to its all-aluminum body and futuristic design. Early adopters used it for hobby flying, and today it is a favorite among charter companies as well.
Since 1947, there have been dozens of variations of the Beechcraft Bonanza, with or without its distinctive V-tail. The company took care with the interior design as well, making adjustable cabins and stylish interiors for well-heeled customers. However, the quality of the aircraft stayed the same.
14. Mil Mi-8 (17,000+)
The Mil Mi-8 is unique on this list because it is the only helicopter—in fact, the Mi-8 is the most-produced helicopter in the history of aviation. Since 1961, the Soviet (and now Russian) industry produced over 17,000 of these choppers.
The Mi-8’s primary use is as a military aircraft. Besides the Russian army, about 50 other air forces use it as well. Military experts prefer this helicopter thanks to its versatility, dependability, and ability to carry heavy artillery.
In the several decades of production, there have been several variations of this helicopter, including the more powerful Mi-17 and the newest Mi-38. There are also smaller variations with specialized equipment for targeted jobs such as electronic counter-measure choppers.
13. Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 (18,000+)
The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 jet fighter plane was one of the most commonplace and well-known military fighter planes of the Cold War and the Jet Age. The Soviet Union produced over 13,000 of these planes and around 5,000 more were produced in other countries under license.
When it was developed, the MiG 15 shocked military experts with its ability to fly as an interceptor at high altitudes. Soviet engineers perfected the British Rolls-Royce Nene jet engines and added other tweaks such as swept wings and pressurized cockpits.
The MiG 15 saw combat in the Korean War where its speed and performance nearly overwhelmed the U.S. Air Force. It was a popular cornerstone of Soviet bloc militaries.
12. Antonov An-2 (18,000+)
The Antonov An-2 is a record-setter developed by the Soviet aeronautics industry. Between 1947 and 2009, the longest-ever production run for any transport aircraft, over 18,000 of these were built worldwide (although the Antonov was developed in the Soviet Union, it was also produced in China and Poland).
The Antonov An-2 was primarily a civic utility plane. Its lack of stall speed, ability to take off and land on makeshift runways, and amazing durability meant that it saw many uses. People used it for transport, search-and-rescue, fire-bombing, research, and more. The Soviet Union even developed a military version.
The Antonov An-2’s ability to handle rough terrain and extreme weather made it a favorite in underdeveloped countries who used it to connect remote areas with vital services.
11. Consolidated B-24 Liberator (18,188)
During World War Two, the United States churned out about 18,188 B-24 Liberators, making this model the most-produced bomber of World War Two.
Bigger, faster, more durable, and meaner than any other bomber, B-24 Liberators helped turn the tide of World War Two. The first army to use them was not the American one but the British one, who bought the planes from the United States as part of the cash-and-carry program. The superior firepower of the American bombers helped turn the tide of the Battle of Britain.
When the United States finally entered the war, the long range of the B-24s helped with bombing raids into Axis territory.
10. Polikarpov Po-2 (20,000)
Compared to modern technology, biplanes seem rickety and primitive, but the Polikarpov Po-2 showed how effective even simple technology could be. Between 1928 and 1952, the Soviet Union produced between 20,000 and 30,000 of these. The exact number is impossible to determine because the design was so simple that even small aviation clubs could build them.
The Po-2 got its start as a civilian craft, where it was used primarily for agricultural purposes such as crop dusting or training new pilots. Its use in agriculture earned it the affectionate nickname “kukuruznik,” referring to corn.
In World War Two, Polikarpov planes were repurposed as bombers. The most famous users were the all-female squad dubbed “Night Witches” who terrorized the invading Germans with their daring deeds.
9. Focke-Wulf Fw 190 (20,000)
The Focke-Wulf Fw 190 was not the most-produced German aircraft of World War Two, but it was one of the most intimidating. For years, Allied pilots lived in fear of these maneuverable fighters. They had plenty to fear as well since the Luftwaffe manufactured a whopping 20,000 of these planes.
The piston-engine Fw 190 was used primarily in dogfights. For years, no military plane could match it in terms of speed, even when climbing and diving.
The sleek, aerodynamic design also gave the Fw 190 plane superior maneuverability which was crucial during interception flights.
8. Piper J-3 Cub (20,191)
The simple, lightweight Piper J-3 Cub dominated in the early days of American aviation. Between 1938 and 1947, Piper Aircraft manufactured 20,191 of these, mostly in the United States and some in Canada.
To this day, the J-3 Cub is the most-produced fabric-covered monoplane ever. It was a very popular sports airplane among amateur pilots thanks to its simple design and relative affordability, nearly as low as a car.
Even though it was officially discontinued, some J-3 Cubs are still in use today, many decades later. They live on in the memory of aviation enthusiasts, particularly thanks to its distinctive yellow paint job.
7. Supermarine Spitfire (20,351)
When we remember the Battle of Britain, we have to remember the efforts of pilots flying Supermarine Spitfires. This aircraft model was the most-produced plane by the RAF, which churned out about 20,351 of these fighters.
The Supermarine Spitfire was nothing like other planes flying in the RAF. It used a high-powered Rolls-Royce Merlin engine and an extremely aerodynamic design. It had superior flight capabilities in many ways, particularly at high altitudes, which was what helped Britain gain the advantage over the Germans. Flying in tandem with Hawker Hurricanes, these planes managed to beat back the seemingly unbeatable Luftwaffe.
Nazi Germany was conscious of the effect Supermarine Spitfires had on its military success, which was why the Luftwaffe targeted the Supermarine Aviation Works during the Southampton Blitz. Luckily, most production had been outsourced by then, and the effect on production was minimal.
6. Cessna 182 (23,237)
The Cessna 182, also called the Cessna Skylane, is one of the most popular sports aircraft to this day. Manufactured by the Cessna Aircraft Company since 1956, over 23,237 planes have been produced. Cessna is now under the control of Textron Aviation, which continued producing the Cessna 182, but in its heyday, Cessna was renowned as the best producer of general-purpose aircraft in the world.
The Cessna 182 planes have many uses, including personal aircraft, charter planes, and transport planes. These models can be modified to land on floats, allowing the plane to take off and land from the water.
Besides its civilian uses, the Cessna 182 is used worldwide by police forces and even militaries. Its small size and extreme versatility make it ideal for reconnaissance and surveillance missions as well as quick travel for business. Countries from Afghanistan to Venezuela use these small yet powerful crafts for official purposes.
5. Cessna 150/152 (23,839)
The Cessna 150/152 together make up one of the most popular general-purpose aircraft of all time (for the purpose of this list and many others, they are counted together because the 152 is just a minor modification of the 150). With 23,839 produced aircraft, the Cessna 150/152 takes spot number 5 on the list of most-produced planes.
Both the Cessna 150 and 152 are single-engine, lightweight sports planes. The differences between the two models include slightly better power, speed, and elevation with the Cessna 152.
These versatile crafts are particularly popular among amateur pilots who find their simple controls easy to use and the price tag affordable. The Cessna 150/152 is so popular among amateur aviators that there are entire clubs dedicated to this model.
4. Piper PA-28 Series (32,778)
Piper PA-28 is the name for a series of utility lightweight aircraft made by the Piper Aircraft company. Models within this series include the Cherokee, Cruiser, Warrior, Archer, Pathfinder, Dakota, and Arrow. Because these individual models are so similar, they are counted as part of a series. Together, there have been about 32,778 manufactured since 1960, with more to come as production is ongoing.
This low-winged, single-engine aircraft is known for its lightweight design and versatile capabilities. Even when going up against giants such as Cessna, the Piper plane is nothing to sneeze at.
The main advantage of the Piper Pa-28 series is its versatility. People use these models for sports, as air taxis, and even for official purposes in military and police forces. Thanks to the ease of flying it, it’s also a popular choice for training and aviation clubs.
3. Messerschmitt Bf 109 (34,852)
The Messerschmitt Bf 109 was the most-produced plane built by the notorious German Luftwaffe during World War Two. This incredibly powerful fighter was one of the most important pieces of equipment in the Nazi German military. From 1936 all the way until 1958, 34,852 of these amazing aircraft were produced.
Nazi operatives designed the Messerschmitt Bf 109 to outfight every other aircraft currently on the market in terms of maneuverability, climbing, and speed. Its incredible speed and flexibility made the Messerschmitt Bf 109 difficult to beat in dogfights, causing nightmares for Allied pilots for years.
An interesting fact is that the Messerschmitt Bf 109 was nearly never developed because of a feud between the CEO of the company that developed it and the Nazi Secretary of State for Aviation. The Allies would probably have suffered far fewer casualties in that case.
2. Ilyushin Il-2 (36,000)
The Ilyushin Il-2 is the most-produced military aircraft in World War Two and all of aviation history. To save itself from German invasion, the Soviet Union churned out over 36,000 of these powerful fighter planes.
Even though no other military aircraft were produced in such large numbers, finding a preserved Ilyushin Il-2 is rare because of the extreme damage these aircraft suffered. They saw heavy fighting on the Eastern Front, and it’s no wonder that Josef Stalin said they were “as necessary to the Red Army as air or bread.”
Nicknamed Stormoviks, the Ilyushin Il-2s were easy to manufacture, withstood heavy damage, and could drop plenty of artillery, making them important during World War Two.
1. Cessna 172 (44,000)
The Cessna 172 is the crown jewel in Cessna’s line of impressive general aircraft and the most popular aircraft ever built. Since 1956, Cessna manufactured over 44,000 of these planes, nearly 10,000 more than the aircraft in second place.
The Cessna 172 is a light, four-seat, high-wing general aircraft with impressive endurance (it even set world records for flight endurance). It has many uses, but it is most popular among amateur pilots and flying clubs.
There are a few reasons why the Cessna 172 is the most popular aircraft model ever built, including its affordability and simplicity.