Last of Their Kind

Airplanes without equal at the National Air and Space Museum

(Library of Congress)

"These aircraft bring people from all over the planet,” says Jeremy Kinney, a curator in the National Air and Space Museum’s aeronautics division. “The Smithsonian is the only place where visitors can see the Wright FlyerSpirit of St. Louis, and Bell X-1, rare survivors such as captured German and Japanese aircraft from World War II, and technology demonstrators like the Lockheed Martin X-35B Joint Strike Fighter. NASM’s 325 aircraft artifacts include 149 one-of-a-kind, sole surviving, and one of two remaining examples that are well known and not so well known.”

Presenting the NASM aeronautics division Top 10—and five runners-up, not pictured—chosen for their significance and their places in curators’ hearts. Notes Kinney, “Of course, the Wright Flyer [pictured above] will always be number one of our one-of-a-kind airplanes.”

See the complete list of the National Air and Space Museum's one-and-onlies.

Arado Ar 234 B-2 Blitz

(Dane Penland)

The world’s first operational jet bomber was not quite ready for full-scale bombing missions before the Allies invaded Normandy in 1944, but the Ar 234s later used in Luftwaffe units proved their worth as reconnaissance aircraft. Equipped with twin Walter rocket-assisted-takeoff units. Manufactured in 1944. Captured by British forces in Norway in May 1945; sent to Wright Field in Ohio for flight testing in 1946. First flight: March 1944. Transferred from the U.S. Air Force to the National Air Museum in 1949; sole survivor.

Abrams Explorer (not shown)

The Abrams Aircraft Corporation Explorer, with a glass-enclosed forward fuselage enabling superb views for both pilot and photographer, was designed for mapping and surveying. First flight: November 1937. Gift of Talbert Abrams, 1949. One built; in storage.

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