Wheels Up: 35+ Captivating Aviation Photos

By Stuart W January 22, 2024

This article was originally published on bettermanly

Since the Wright brothers took their first manned flight in 1903, aviation has developed and evolved almost beyond recognition. The change this new technology had on the world is phenomenal and cannot be overstated.

As technology and materials developed, the world became a truly globalized place. From culture to travel and trade, the effects have been profound and wide-ranging. And that’s precisely the point of this listicle. These captivating aviation pictures are sure to leave you slack-jawed in wonder and awe.

During this rundown, you are going to see photographs that are poignant and emotional and some that will make you smile and chuckle to yourself with joy. Aircraft and aviation, in general, have always fascinated people, and in this article, you’ll see why.

The First and Last 747’s

This is a fascinating depiction of the history of the iconic Boeing 747. The top image shows the very first model of these planes, and the second one is a photograph of the last. Though this model was undoubtedly revolutionary, it had to be discontinued due to the availability of more efficient aircraft.

SAS Scandinavian Airlines / Wiki Commons / Public Domain | aviationweek.com

What we find particularly interesting is the fact that the basic design of the airplane hasn’t really changed over the years. The bottom image is clearly of a cargo-type aircraft as it has no windows, which are standard on the passenger-carrying models.

French Marine Nationale Breguet Atlantique

It must be quite the experience to be airborne and sitting in the position that this gentleman is. Though we are not convinced we would ever look that comfortable sitting there, we’re sure the view must be breathtaking. Must be what it feels like to be on top of the world!

vitoskito/Reddit

He is obviously there as a spotter, but this looks like a pretty precarious vantage point. You can only imagine the amount of adrenaline he must have experienced every time the plane did a maneuver. We love photographs like this!

Speed/Altitude Monitor – Concorde

Concorde is perhaps the most iconic airplane that has ever existed. In addition to its distinctive looks, it was famed for its ability to travel at great speed. It must have added to the experience of traveling to see how fast you were going.

airliners.net

It would be really interesting to have the speed and altitude displayed so prominently on modern aircraft. Although this information is quite often displayed on the headrest display screen, somehow, that is not as cool and not quite as exciting.

747 Engine Turned into a Grill

Now, this is certainly a talking point! This guy has created a stunning and truly unique barbeque from an old 747 engine, and the result is spectacular. Imagine going to his house for a cookout and him firing this up.

welder22/Reddit

We can’t even begin to speculate how much this would have cost, but we are sure the figure must be eye-watering! This is an incredible example of what can be achieved with a little imagination, determination, and some dollar bills lining your pocket!

Concorde Engine

Concorde was retired from service in 2003. The aircraft was then broken down, and parts of it were sold off to collectors of aviation history and memorabilia. This engine found its way to the entrance of an Aerospace college in America.

CooCooCaChoo498/Reddit

It’s staggering to think that his humble-looking engine could break the sound barrier. Thus, it was only right that this masterpiece was preserved in a place where people would appreciate its value. It would have been such a shame had it simply been destroyed.

Handwritten Instructions for Starting a B-29 Engine

This historical artifact features handwritten notes containing instructions on how to start up the B-29. The notes date back to the early sixties. Things like this really humanize what the experience of flying is like, in addition to showing off its complexities. 

tacticalslacker/Reddit

Documents like this also give us a rare window into the past. It’s fascinating to see the level of detail in the notes. By the looks of it, it was quite an involved process. Things have certainly changed since then!

Plane Maintenance

This shot depicts a lady carrying out some annual maintenance on an aircraft. Airplanes are complicated machines, and it is essential that they are properly looked after during their time in service. We really love the details of the plane’s engine in this pic.

kimstreo/Reddit

There’s something about a black-and-white photograph that is just so evocative. The way the woman in the picture is looking directly at the camera only serves to add to the aesthetic quality of this beautiful photograph. She effortlessly gives off a vibe of reliability and expertise.

Interesting Switch Found in an Uh-1 Helicopter

The song Fortunate Son by the American rock band Creedence Clearwater Revival has become synonymous with the Vietnam War. This is primarily due to its use in several films that feature the infamous war. Its most notable appearance was in Forrest Gump.

Datum000/Reddit

Now, we are pretty sure this is not a genuine control switch. If you are not familiar with the pop culture references around the war in Vietnam, the joke might be lost on you. Nonetheless, we find it very amusing.

U2 Camera Viewfinder

When somebody says U2, your mind will probably think of the famed Irish rock band. But did you know that they actually pinched their name from a US spy plane? When it was first used in 1957, it was cutting-edge.

RepublicOfAviators/Reddit

This photo shows the camera viewfinder. Its size gives you a good idea of the magnifying capability this plane could deploy at the time. It provided invaluable reconnaissance support for the USA during the Cold War. No wonder Bono and his mates couldn’t resist its allure!

Boeing 737 Next to the Biggest Helicopter in the World

When you think about a helicopter, chances are that you are picturing something considerably smaller than an airplane. So, to see one that is almost as big as a 737 is quite impressive. Also, we’ve never particularly liked the color orange, but on this aircraft, it looks perfect!

waxyhighlands/Reddit

The helicopter in the picture is the Russian-made Mil-Mi-26, the biggest helicopter in the world today. What is fascinating about this ‘copter, and this photo in particular, is that without the 737 there for context, you’d think it was regular-sized.

F-22 Power Loop

This time-lapse photographic composition depicts an F-22 fighter jet performing the high-speed and always impressive power loop maneuver. Both the action of the plane and the composite image are beautiful pieces of work that we are sure took a lot of skill and expertise.

TheEternels/Reddit

This image reminds us of the classic movie Top Gun, which both popularized and glamorized jet fighters and those who pilot them. We are sure many people, including us, would pay good money to frame this and display it somewhere.

USS Midway and USS Independence Docked Together

This impressive-looking structure is actually two gigantic aircraft carriers that have been docked together. Just look how tiny the fighter planes look upon the decks of these two seafaring behemoths. Based on that alone, this is one of our favorite images on this list.

PH2 Omar Hasan, U.S. Navy / Wiki Commons / Public Domain

The combination of intricate details across this picture is really interesting. Also, can you imagine the crew and logistics it must take to keep this whole thing operational? It must be mind-blowing! Pics like these make you appreciate how much progress we’ve made as mankind.

Boeing 787 Crew Rest

If you have ever flown on a long-haul flight and wondered where the crew goes to have a snooze or to get a bit of a rest, we have the answer for you here. This comfy-looking, albeit tiny area is where these guys go when they need some shut-eye.

norembo/Reddit

It’s located above the first-class section, and we think you’ll agree that it looks like a pretty nice spot to curl up and unwind during breaks on a long flight. Well, unless you have a problem with tiny, confined spaces.

B-21 Raider

This photograph of a B-21 Raider looks like something out of a movie! The picture was taken with a blue light reduction, and the final result showed the plane with no shadows around it. This, in turn, added to the drama of the picture.

Vigil47/Reddit

We also think it looks kind of futuristic. The lack of detail around the edge of the composition means that the viewer’s eye is naturally drawn to the subject of the photo. After we googled to find out what the B-21 Raider actually looks like, we appreciated this angle even more.

Receipt for a Boeing 737

It’s kind of weird to think that somebody has to actually perform the act of purchasing an airplane. It’s not like buying a car, so it’s not something you usually think of. But of course, somebody has to do it.

Met76/Reddit

This receipt is a first for many of us. It shows the details of the purchase of a Boeing 737, and as you can see, it costs a lot to buy one of these beauties! We just hope that whoever’s card was used got them a load of frequent flier points! 

Antonov An-225

The Antonov An-225 is one of the largest airplanes to ever take to the skies. Because of its massive size and weight, it requires a larger-than-usual number of wheels to ensure that it can land safely. Just check out the wheels on this baby!

jhystad/Reddit

It’s a cargo plane capable of carrying vast amounts of equipment in its massive hold, including things like generators and even a railway locomotive. Sadly, there was only one of these aircraft in existence, and it was destroyed in February 2022.

747 Sitting Down on the Job

We are not too sure what exactly is going on here, but this Boeing 747 appears to be sitting down on the job! While we are sure that there is a perfectly straightforward explanation for this, the effect is quite amusing.

@imgur.com

It reminds us of a dog sitting down, eagerly awaiting a treat! Can you imagine how much cargo fits in this massive plane? If this was an accident, these guys would undoubtedly have to send hundreds of “Your package has been delayed” messages.

Raaf C-17 at Brisbane River Fire Airshow

What an incredible picture this is! We’re not quite sure whether this was a brilliant case of camera trickery or editing or whether what we are seeing here is the actual reality of the situation. But whatever the explanation, this was a stunning shot.

@dailymail.com

There is something very visceral about aircraft and their movements and the mind-bending maneuvers some of them are able to perform. It’s no wonder that people flock to air shows like this one in Brisbane to see the action for themselves.

Taking Mom on a Trip

Learning to fly has become an increasingly popular hobby around the world, and due to its prevalence, it has become more affordable for the average person to learn this exciting and challenging skill. Our next photo features a proud mum being treated to a flight by her son.

The joy on both of their faces is so infectious that it leaves you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. Though we certainly can’t fly a plane, we relate to the joy of wanting to share big moments with loved ones, especially parents. Kudos to you, good sir!

View From the Cockpit

This is quite a spectacular shot that shows us the view from a plane’s cockpit on what looks like a very dramatic weather day. The clouds look angry and atmospheric, and the mountains on the side fit perfectly with the aesthetic.

Flying a plane allows you to see some truly remarkable views, and this is one such example. Shout out to pilots who are still able to concentrate on the task at hand in such situations. If it was us, we’d have a hard time paying attention because views like these always take us hostage!

Co-Pilot Checklist

A nice bit of cheeky humor is on display in this photograph. This pilot has clearly had enough of their interfering co-pilot and thus decided to put them in their place! Though it may sound harsh, we reckon the pilot is a funny character!

@reddit.com

We’re sure he doesn’t mean it, though. When the job is as technical and complex as flying an aircraft, it is important to have a good team that you can trust with your life. We suspect these two get along just fine, and this was just a gag.

Stratotanker and Spy Plane

This is quite an impressive shot because you don’t usually see two airplanes flying so close together. It is even rarer for one of them to be a spy plane, which by definition is usually not seen or photographed at all.

@mach3ti.com

It almost looks as if the Stratotanker is casting a strange shadow, and it’s only by looking closely that you can see that they are, in fact, two separate aircraft. A very cool picture that is only made more stunning by the cloud formation around the planes.

MD-80 with a Detached Butt

This one is actually kind of a sad story, as it was the result of an accident. You know how sometimes you press the wrong button on a gadget and you end up with a problem? Well, someone mistakenly pulled a handle that released this part on the runway.

@inewsguyana.com

As a result, two members of staff who were working nearby were injured. Like most of the photos we have featured so far, this is also not something you come across often, no matter how much of a frequent flier you are.

Flying Elite

This is definitely one of the coolest selfies we have ever seen. We are not even sure we would look this cool if we were flying the plane! It’s such an exhilarating shot, especially the part that’s reflected on the visor.

Our first thought after seeing this picture was, “Is Scarlett Johansson doing a film where she plays a fighter pilot? That would be so awesome!” But it turns out we were wrong. This woman could pass for her, though, right?

Air Canada’s First Delivered A320, With Ear Warmers and Scarf

This cute picture was taken way back in 1990 when Air Canada got its first A320. It was adorably delivered to them with a scarf and ear warmers, clearly a gag referencing the cold weather in the Great White North.

@aircanada

Little fun touches like this really restore our faith in humanity. A little humor goes a long way. We can only begin to imagine how long it would have taken for a scarf this large to be knitted, though. It must have been enough material for an entire ice hockey team!

Look at the Size of this Plane!

This particular photograph serves to demonstrate the massive size of the Antonov 225, a plane we have already featured in this article if you can remember. Beside the others, it looks like a mummy plane with her brood of youngsters.

McIverKnight/Twitter

Though it was sadly destroyed due to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, this plane was legendary during its years of service. It held various records like the world’s heaviest plane, among other impressive titles. According to its owners, plans to rebuild it are underway.

SR-71 Blackbird Pilots

This eerie photograph looks like it could have been taken on the set of a science fiction movie. But in reality, this is a gathering of members of a highly elite group of pilots who fly this type of plane.

@animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com

The Lockheed SR-71 is a high-altitude, long-range reconnaissance airplane. This essentially means that it is a spy plane. They cost over thirty-three million dollars to produce and are top of the range in every aspect. We reckon something this menacing must also have equally menacing gear to go with it, right?

Christmas Lights on a B-52

This is the most unique and heartwarming use of Christmas decorations we have ever seen! It took about 52,000 Christmas lights to cover the entirety of this B-52. The results were spectacular and oh-so Christmassy! Someone clearly understood the assignment.

@papainternational.com

This must have been a true labor of love. We know how frustrating it is to untangle and pin up a single string of these things, so to cover an entire airplane with them must have been quite the uphill task. Whoever did it deserves free flights for a lifetime!

Whoops!

If you drive a car, there is a good chance that you have been involved in a scrape or two over the years. In general, these little incidents do not amount to much more than a nuisance and mild inconvenience. 

@reddit.com

However, if you’re taxiing a multi-million dollar aircraft down the runway and have a bit of a ‘whoops’ moment, the consequences are a lot more severe and expensive! With a plane as expensive as this one, there are no small accidents.

A Close Encounter in the Fog

It is said that the most dangerous parts of any flight are the taking off and the landing. That is why the pilots who fly these aircraft are so well trained, and the radar and other technology used in the process are so state of the art.

@flickrhivemind.net

Although the chances are that there was never any danger of these two planes crashing, the effect captured in this photograph is quite startling and dramatic. What a scare it must have been to see that plane coming through the fog! 

An Air Canada 787 Through the Mist at Heathrow

Heathrow Airport in Britain is one of the most prominent international airports in the world. Flights land here from all over the world and in a myriad of different weather conditions, including rain and fog, as depicted in this photo.

@reddit.com

This is a stunning depiction of a plane descending through low-visibility fog. It may have been a pretty taxing experience for the pilot, but we are so glad that there was a photographer on hand to capture this special shot.

Can’t Stop Staring!

Awww! This poor plane seems to be turning its head and gazing at the majestic beauty of the Concorde next to it on the runway. It seems the pain of unrequited love can also be experienced by aircraft! Poor Super Guppy!

@imgrum.net

The strange-looking aircraft is the Aero Spacelines Super Guppy, which, despite its weird appearance, is quite an impressive plane. It transports unusually large cargo that would otherwise not fit on normal cargo planes. The Concorde would be lucky to have this beast!

Plane Flying Across a Solar Eclipse

The way the light emits from the nearly complete eclipse over this plane’s vapor trails gives it a striking resemblance to a sword. Eclipses are a spectacular and awe-inspiring sight, and to have a plane flying right below one is stunning.

@lecosmographs.com

This would be a great poster to have on a wall. You can just imagine how pleased the photographer was after capturing this once-in-a-lifetime moment. With something like this in your portfolio, there is nothing you can’t do as a photographer.

Working Overnight in a Snowstorm

It would be impossible to fly these long-haul airplanes across the world without a hardworking and diligent team on the ground. In the photo below, we see one such team working overnight in the cold to clear ice and snow before takeoff.

@reddit.com

These guys are really the unsung heroes of aviation. Without them, flying would often be dangerous, if not impossible. Think of them next time you get on a plane, ready to jet off and enjoy your vacation on a beach somewhere.

747 Rainbow Contrails

This is surely one of the most beautiful images of an airplane that has ever been captured. With the sun refracting through the vapor present in the plane’s controls, the effect was a stunning rainbow. And who doesn’t love rainbows?

@reddit

It almost looks like an image that has been heavily photoshopped, but it is a genuine photograph. It just goes to show that this man-made and bulky mode of transport, which has been made for practicality, can still produce striking beauty.

The Concorde Keeps Impressing us

This image was taken from a Tornado fighter plane over the Irish Sea. The Tornado could only keep pace with the world’s fastest passenger plane for about four minutes. It is a magnificent photograph that captures the majesty of Concorde.

@ebay.ie

Apparently, the Concorde actually had to slow down its cruising speed so that the Tornado could capture this amazing photograph. It has been said that this plane was the pinnacle of commercial air travel, and judging by this story, we can’t argue with that.

Space Shuttle Carried on the Back of a 747

Wow! Just wow! That is a sight that you don’t see every day. This mind-blowing image depicts the Space Shuttle being transported to its launch site. It is accompanied by an escort of two F-18s. A very rare sight indeed.

@helablog.com

It would have been an amazing enough image had it just been set in the context of a skyscape. But this picture features a city scene as well, which serves to add a whole other layer of drama and interest to the composition.

Plane Spotting

The gentleman in this image is a pilot who had popped out on his lunch break to do a bit of plane spotting. He managed to capture this image featuring a plane flying directly above him. Thanks to the angle, it looks like it’s almost within arm’s reach.

@reddit.com

What’s even more amazing about this photograph is the fact that the plane featured in the picture is actually the one he was going to fly after he had finished his lunch! Though we’re sure he has many special photos of his career, this one deserves a spot on his mantel.

Sea Stallion Selfie

This image kind of looks like the helicopter is taking a selfie of itself mid-flight. It is another one of those images that seem to project human qualities and behaviors onto an inanimate object. The effect is, admittedly, quite striking.

@reddit.com

It reminds us of the kind of selfies that you come across of skydivers capturing the moment of their fall. Adding to the wow factor of the photo is the sheer amount of detail present on the body of the chopper.

Rescue Helicopter and Everything in it

By taking out every single piece of kit that fits inside this rescue ‘copter, as well as the crew, you can get a real sense of the organizational skills that it takes to pack up one of these babies with everything it needs.

@imgur.com

There’s something very pleasing to the eye to see everything laid out in such a neat and orderly fashion. It’s like one of those exploded diagrams that give you a sense of how everything all fits together to form a coherent whole.

Life Goal

This heartwarming picture shows us two images of a father and daughter taken thirteen years apart. The young lady in question has clearly been inspired and motivated by her dad and followed in his footsteps to become a pilot, too.

@kwejk.pi

It is always heartwarming to see somebody’s dreams coming true, and the fact that it was a dream that she has held since childhood only adds to the poignancy of these two images. He must be such a proud papa!

Veteran Stands in Front of the Plane He Flew

This is a very beautiful photo of a veteran next to the plane he used during the Second World War. It must have been a very odd feeling for the elderly gentleman and quite an emotional experience to be reunited with his aircraft.

agbishop/Reddit

The airplane is clearly being displayed at a museum. It is good to know that such evocative reminders of the war are being preserved for future generations to learn important lessons from. Such full-circle moments always get us choked up.

Flying Grandfather’s Plane

Here we have another example of how powerful and poignant it is to see planes that flew during the wars of previous generations. In this image, a pilot is about to take a flight in her grandfather’s restored Hurricane that was used in WW2.

@reddit.com

Hurricanes were second only to the Spitfire in terms of effectiveness for the RAF during the war. It must have been an extremely heartwarming moment for her. This just goes to show the incredible influence our families and their vocations have on our lives.

First Mother and Daughter Crew at SkyWest Airlines

This charming picture shows the first mother and daughter flight crew to pilot a plane for SkyWest Airlines. It must have been quite a surreal moment for both of them. This, just like the previous photo, shows how popular flying is as a career, especially in families with existing pilots.

@imgur.com

Pilots, co-pilots, and in fact, the entire team who work together to get these huge planes from point A to point B all have to trust each other. We don’t know about you, but we believe the trust between a mother and daughter is one of the strongest feelings in the universe.