Boredom is in the eye, or perhaps gall bladder, of the beholder. When I was growing up in Norfolk (my origin proving my credentials for this task) I thought that the pairs of A-10s that flew over every day were extremely dull. They were commonplace, quiet, and neither a super-exciting fast jet like a Jaguar nor something lovely and old like a Tiger Moth. Now I realise the A-10 is one of the most interesting military aircraft ever built and if one were to hove into view now I would run outside and stare at it until it went away. However, some aircraft are just so dull that no human anywhere could ever truly find the energy to run outside and look at them. Could they? Well, probably. But here’s some likely contenders for that accolade, if it were truly attainable. Ironically I have tried to make this list a bit more, well, interesting by selecting the most boring aircraft from various aspects of aviation history, otherwise the whole list would be Airbuses. And that would be boring. Now I’m boring myself.
10. Curtiss P-40: Borehawk
Inherently military aircraft can’t help but be generally more interesting than civil ones and of military aircraft the fighter is obviously the most glamorous. The most intense period in the history of fighter aircraft is the Second World War, so selecting the most boring example from the most thrilling group of aircraft at the most exciting time for aircraft seems like a pointlessly difficult task but I believe I have achieved the definitive answer:
The Curtiss P-40 was neither particularly fast nor particularly manoeuvrable and it was not effective at high altitude. Its design was not unusual, unlike its fascinating contemporaries the P-38 and P-39, and it was itself a derivative of an earlier, rarer and more historically interesting aircraft, the Hawk 75. Subsequently, halfway through its production life it was heavily redesigned to become, seemingly, even more mediocre.
Some aircraft are interesting due to the nation that produced them (ie Italy) but no such luck for the Warhawk. It cannot be considered unusual due to rarity, the P-40 was produced in great numbers but on the other hand, not so great as many other fighters. In no theatre to which it was committed could it definitively be said to have been the best fighter available on one side or the other but generally comes out sort-of second or third best. Never totally outclassed though – that would have made it notable. Its long career (it was only retired by Brazil in the mid-fifties, which is edging into dangerously potentially interesting territory) was not so long as the Corsair or the Mustang, and was generally competent. The P-40 can claim no superlative nor was it found spectacularly wanting in any regard. It represents the greatest triumph of mediocrity during the war years. Perhaps not coincidentally it is one of my favourite aircraft.
9. Beriev Be-30/32: Soviet Yawnion
Has any other nation so consistently produced more interesting aircraft than the Soviet Union? Either because they were absolutely brilliant or because they were just so awful. Anyway, just to prove that aerial ennui is not the sole preserve of the Imperialist West here is the Beriev Be-30, an aircraft whose sole claim to fame is its limited production run (of eight, which makes it pretty successful by modern British standards ho ho). Looking a little like a genetically modified Twin Otter (how often have you heard that tired old line?) the Be-30 chugged around for a while competing unsuccessfully with the Let-410 and flirting with being mass-produced in Romania until it quietly died without anyone really noticing.
8. Schweizer X-26 Frigate: I feel the need, the need for a safe yaw/roll-coupling training platform
Research aircraft are usually spectacular and dangerous, sometimes awe-inspiring like the X-15 or less so like the Bristol 188, but invariably exciting right? Picture the scene: you are a hotshot US Naval aviator and you’ve just been assigned to the Naval Test Pilot’s School. Perhaps you’ll fly the new Super Crusader and mock dogfight with F-4s, or maybe you’ll get on the D-558 programme and fly several times the speed of sound at the edge of space, or maybe it’ll be something absurd and memorable like the Ryan Vertijet. Imagine your reaction therefore on being presented with the X-26A, a Schweizer Frigate glider which differs from the standard Schweizer SGS 2-32 glider mostly by having the word ‘Navy’ painted on the side. “It doesn’t even have an engine!” you manage to wail before being told to get out there and push the yaw/roll coupling envelope (slowly).
7. Vickers Varsity: It existed
Training aircraft are usually pretty dull and so are most airliners. The Varsity combined these two groups to singularly uninteresting effect whilst also managing to be an uninspiring development of a fairly boring military derivative of a not particularly interesting airliner. Try to think of something interesting about it. Go on.
How dare you consider clicking off this list of boring planes- if however you do, have a look at 10 Best fighters of World War II , top WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humourous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians.
6. McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle : Filthy shades of Grey
(Note from Editor: Are we still using fifty shades jokes? Jesus)
…oh ok, how about ‘Bored of Prey‘?
I bet people will disagree with this one but the F-15 is by far the world’s most boring fast jet. For starters it comes from the world’s least interesting nation in terms of military aircraft production. It’s not old enough to be interesting like the F-4, nor is it new enough like the Typhoon. Its undeniable success is dull. A 100-0 ‘kill’ ratio isn’t interesting, it just reflects the fact that the USAF and Israel haven’t engaged anyone with a genuinely competitive air force since the F-15 entered service (or indeed for several years beforehand). For a brief moment in 2007, it looked like the F-15 might suddenly get interesting after one broke up in mid-air for no apparent reason (a la de Havilland Comet) leading to a worldwide grounding. As it turned out the fleet was fine and the ultimate reason for the midair failure was the most tepid one can possibly imagine: ‘a longeron did not meet specifications’. Gee. And it looks boring. The F-15 pioneered the oh-so-tedious ‘you can have any colour you like so long as it’s grey’ trend for air-superiority fighters that seems to be totally obligatory these days. Even so the F-15’s dullness remains, to me at least, inexplicable, it should be thrilling but it isn’t. F-14 and F-16: exciting.
F-15: capable. Yawn.
5. TSR.2: Tedious Speculative Rants (2)
See also Avro Arrow, Mirage 4000 and countless other ‘potential world beaters’.
The TSR2 was, in itself, an interesting aircraft, big, fast, advanced, and ultimately doomed. However no other aircraft (in the UK at least) has provoked such a tireless and seemingly infinite stream of invective and speculation. All that can be said with impunity was that the development of a promising British aircraft was cancelled. This act (which is, let’s face it, hardly unprecedented in the annals of British aviation) has resulted in literally millions of words in books and magazines and on forums and websites and blogs that go on and on and on and on and on. All of it saying basically the same thing over and over again. Thus an aircraft that should be a fascinating footnote of postwar British aviation has been damned by tedious angry bores (such as myself) and their tedious angry opinions (such as my own) to annoying tiresome ubiquity.
4. Robinson R66: Whirlybored
Robinson helicopters are cheap, commonplace and easy to identify, lumbered as they are with a big stick on top holding up the rotors like a rubbish flying unicorn. The only thing that makes them interesting is their reliance on piston engines in what is now an almost universally turboshaft driven field. Their relatively new R66 removes even that mildly non-soporific element by being a turboshaft powered update of the R44 and thus can justly lay claim to the title of dullest rotorcraft to date.
R66 pilots note: Happy to recant this in exchange for rides in your helicopter.
3. Piper PA-28: Private Plain
Familiarity breeds contempt. There’s thousands of these things flying around but if one went past would you be able to identify it? Of course not – mainly because you don’t care but also because it looks incredibly similar to a whole bunch of other small private aircraft. To add insult to injury and to encourage you to care even less, the basic PA-28 sometimes has retractable undercarriage fitted and occasionally a T-tail. If a small high-wing aircraft that looks like a Cessna 172 flies past, chances are it actually is one, what with the 172 being the most produced aircraft of all time (which is pretty spectacular). With the PA-28, well yes, it could indeed be a PA-28 but there’s at least a dozen other aircraft that look basically identical. The Piper gets the nod in the boring stakes by being the most commonplace of these. Also I’ve flown one and it made me feel ill.
2. Boeing 737: Malaisen Airlines
Any lingering glamour that airline flying can still command is daily being eroded by the Boeing 737. What is worse is that the ubiquity of the 737 and its concomitant dullness has started to spill over into other areas of life. Southwest Airlines of Dallas operate ‘no-frills’ services using solely Boeing 737s and is spectacularly successful. The so-called ‘Southwest model’ is currently rather popular in the business world and espouses making any given service as simple and uninteresting as possible so that it may be delivered at the lowest possible price for maximum return. The 737 is at the heart of this policy and key to its success. The Boeing 737 is, therefore, making all things in the world simpler and duller and more profitable and worse.
1. Airbus A320 (family): Born Toulouse
It’s a tight contest for the top spot but claiming the Beige medal is the fantastically mundane Airbus which just nudges the 737 into second place by dint of the fact that the 737 is the world’s most produced jet airliner (which could be considered interesting), and on account of the name ‘Airbus’ which was specifically chosen to remove any semblance of residual excitement that might be inherently retained by a flying machine. It is neither the most successful nor the largest nor the smallest nor the least successful nor the safest nor the most unsafe nor the fastest nor the loudest nor the quietest nor the longest-ranged twin jet airliner flying today.
The A320 pioneered the civil application of such dull technologies as fly-by-wire and the side stick controller, both of which serve to make piloting the aircraft less interesting and which have subsequently been adopted by other seemingly more exciting aircraft.
As thrilling as the European Economic Area that it so competently represents and serves, the A320 is a reassuring triumph of modern dullness in an increasingly interesting world and for that it should, perhaps, be discreetly celebrated.
Ed ‘Ennui’ Ward is currently lying on the kitchen floor looking at out of the patio window at a rain-sodden suburban lawn.
Follow my vapour trail on Twitter: @Hush_kit
If you enjoyed this I slapped a load of links about twenty centimetres above this. Alright I repeat them below too as I’m in a good mood: 10 Best fighters of World War II , top WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humourous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians.