“I like big butts and I cannot lie. You other brothers can’t deny.” So said Sir Mix-a-Lot, in the popular song which earned him his knighthood. Whether it be the bootie, the bum-bum, the backside, the keister or the posterior, the tail has inspired the imagination of humans since buttocks first evolved 2 million years ago as a form of mobile biological scatter cushion. Jump to the 20th century and the Wright Brothers’ aeroplane leaps into existence rear-end first, and so begins the story of the flying tooshie. Sam Wise, assman and aviation aficionado went in search of the 10 sexiest rear-ends in aviation.
Douglas F4D Skyray
The Douglas Skyray is the best-looking American fighter aircraft ever made. It was an especially elegant aeroplane, from the early jet era when an aeroplane could look like a flying manta ray rather than today’s unlovely priests of the church of angle alignment.
The swoop of those leading edges belie the aircraft’s speed, and in fact Douglas’ last fighter once held the world absolute speed record, moving to the jet’s rear-end they continue to intrigue the eye, drawing back into that single jet exhaust pipe that never fails to delight. But what really excites the mind are those suddenly, surprisingly pointed pitch-trimmers just outboard of the fin, a jagged steel among the beautiful curves.
Dornier Do 335
You’ve heard of propellers on the front of a plane…but propellers at the back and the front? As utterly mad as that sounds, it has in fact been done before, on the German Reich’s seemingly daft, yet formidable, Do 335. The Pfeil, designed to outpace existing twin-engine designs hence the unconventional engine and airscrew layout, couldn’t work as a taildragger like most aeroplanes of the time but instead features both a dorsal and ventral fin, like some sort of propeller-driven missile (or, I don’t know, a submarine or something. Either way, it looks rad).
Lioré et Olivier LeO 45
Anyone who has ever seen any pre-war French bomber will probably be surprised to see one appear on a list of anything sexy, and from the front the LeO 45 is anything but, perhaps most kindly described as “definitely resembling a plane”. Mais á la derriere, ooh la la, regardez ça! Twin tails are always cool, but the horizontal dihedral with the dropped vertical stabilisers look positively futuristic, maybe even kind of predatory. Completely different to everything in front of it, anyway.
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 Foxbat
In contrast to the above, the famously fast MiG-25 ‘Foxbat’ has an absolutely Pixar-mum-level dumptruck ass. That thing is thicc – Sir Mix-A-Lot wrote a Billboard Hot 100 number 1 hip-hop single about this fighter. There aren’t many jetpipes that occupy the entire, full area of the fuselage but these ones, from behind…I mean, look at it!
And that’s before the afterburner even comes on, and then we’re talking about one of the greatest lightshows on the planet Earth as two burning suns push this monster to Mach 3 (ish), melting brains the whole way. Two lovely small ventral fins even give a delicate garnish to the main dish.
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Aerfer Sagittario 2
Yeah that’s right, I know obscure planes. This could be seen as a ‘Ferrari Yak-23‘, and possessed the most beautiful, proportionally balanced empennages I’ve ever seen (I believe me I’ve seen some). The absolutely graceful lines as the tail tapering from the bulging fuselage just make me melt. In side profile the way the thing curves upwards gives the impression that the aircraft is about to spring into the air like an antelope and up close you just want to run your hands over every rivet as it sweeps and bends like a work of art, untroubled and undisturbed by any engine exhausts or nozzles.
The considerably more bonkers S.66 may be best known for that utterly bananas body, but shift your gaze and you’ll find the back-end is doing something very interesting indeed. Check out how slender those booms are – nothing but frame, pure function over form, leading to a tailplane that looks almost like it’s floating in its own right as a result.
The fins appropriately resemble tall-ship sails, suitable for the time when people thought commercial aviation was going to be a primarily water-based affair, while the tailplane itself very much commands respect as its own entity, working in fantastic opposition to the huge wing it follows.
de Havilland Sea Vixen
Another twin-boom design, the Sea Vixen makes the list for having a tail like a great big fuck-off spoiler. There’s really not much more to say about it I’m afraid, it just looks like a sick, fat spoiler like on a racing car, and that’s very cool.
McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom
The Phantom’s rear-end is easily one of the most iconic rear-ends in aviation history. Aside from the two big cans of fire, it’s the way the tail extends out above them, the fillet between the nozzles separating them and housing the arrestor hook, the short, high-angle fin, but most of all it’s those downward canted elevators. The whole combination is instantly recognisable, one of the defining features of one of flight’s biggest rockstar icons. The Phantom’s tail is the powerful, musclebound hindquarters of a true beast of the sky.
Vought F7U Cutlass
The polar opposite of the extremely successful F-4 is the calamitous Cutlass, the F7U Cutlass is probably the biggest meme plane to ever be built. A very real contender for “worst plane in history”, this jet’s Wikipedia page reads like a dark comedy and it’s the only naval aircraft ever to be straight up wholesale ordered off an aircraft carrier by its captain. As he watched them go, he would have nevertheless greatly admired the fantastic design of the back half of the plane. The engine housing sticks out past the wing in a fantastically 1950s manner while the awesomely-shaped tails just go directly out the back sans booms. Gerry Anderson must have loved this design, but not even International Rescue could have saved this plane from being a disaster.
Saab 37 Viggen
The Viggen, you ask? But Sam, how can you end this article on such a conventional-looking aircraft after such extremely correct examples above? Surely this is a mistake? And yes, you’re right, at first glance, the Viggen is just a boggo delta wing layout (I mean, it’s not, it’s one of the best-looking planes ever but you know) with nothing remarkable going on outback.
But then the wheels hit the floor and the clamshell doors close and, oh boy, something funny goes on below the belt. Woof. The Viggen’s party-piece is its powerful thrust-reverser that can bring it to a stop on a krona, and can even be used to reverse with. It looks so, so good when those things slam shut.
Sam Wise has a lot of opinions, many not his own. You can read them on Twitter.