New Classics: Fifty Years From Now, What Will be Considered Classic?

By Budd Davisson, EAA 22483

This article first appeared in the May 2019 issue of EAA Sport Aviation.

It is interesting what time does to the way in which we view things. For instance, for many, the Vietnam War seems like yesterday even though it ended 44 years ago. Several generations have been born since. Some remember viewing ’57 Chevys as nothing more than old cars (heresy!). Many remember Cessna 140s when they were just “that cute little airplane sinking into the dirt on the back tiedown line.” Ditto tired old T-crafts, Luscombes, and even Swifts. To that generation, it’s hard to see aircraft like those called “classics.” For several generations, they were just used airplanes. If we extend that thought pattern to today, what it means is that, when we walk down a tiedown line of mostly modern airplanes, we’re surrounded by classics-in-the-making. At some time in the future, some of the airplanes we take for granted today will take their place on the exalted altar of the classic airplane. Basically, everything everywhere is always in the process of becoming classic. 

Keeping the above in mind, remember that EAA’s Vintage Contemporary category ends in 1970. Nearly 50 years of airplanes have been produced since then. A half-century! That’s unbelievable. For that reason, it stands to reason that some of those airplanes are bound to be considered classic by future generations. Some maybe not. However, just for the heck of it, we thought we’d skim down through online listings of post-1970 airplanes for sale and try to identify those we think have the ingredients needed to become classic. This is a purely subjective exercise, and we fully expect disagreements to be voiced. We’d be disappointed if they weren’t. 

Just as a point of reference, Webster states the definition of classic is “characterized by simple tailored lines, in fashion year after year.” Wikipedia states classics are “an outstanding example of a particular style; something of lasting worth or with a timeless quality.” The sport aviator’s definition might be “will always look good and fly even better.” 

When I started compiling the following list, I didn’t have any firm limitations or descriptions in mind. In fact, in some cases, the airplanes selected have been around long enough that they are technically Contemporary classics, but in at least one case, are all but unknown and deserve better. A few are “modern” aircraft that saw limited production and today are unique enough to attract future enthusiasts. In other cases, the airplanes are newly manufactured versions of a recognized classic or antique aircraft. As such, they are offering “new” for those who want to fly a classic but not fly “old.” FYI, we’re presenting these in alphabetical order. 

American Champion’s Entire Line

The current line of Citabrias, Decathlons, etc. now flowing out of American Champion’s Rochester, Wisconsin, plant are old-timey classics wearing modern clothing. The Champ and its descendants have seen only a few production interruptions in nearly 75 years, most of them occurring when the company was changing hands. Aeronca introduced the original Champ in 1946 with production averaging over 30 a day before the market imploded in 1947. More than 8,000 were produced before production ceased in 1951. The design was sold to Champion Aircraft in 1954, which produced variations of the Champ into the ’60s and introduced the aerobatic Citabria. The company was sold to Bellanca, and it produced the designs into the early 1980s when it was again sold, this time to American Champion Aircraft Corp. in 1989. American Champion Aircraft Corp. is still producing an ever-widening variety of classic-appearing aircraft that can trace their ancestry directly to the Champ 7AC of 1946. Does anyone doubt that 50 years from now the Vintage area at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh will be loaded with today’s versions of the Air Knocker Champ? 


It’s unknown whether Giuseppe Bellanca, upon his arrival in the United States in 1911, had a clue that he would eventually play a major role in American aviation. His utility aircraft broke many load-carrying and distance flying records. Today’s semi-popular Bellanca Viking series is the last in a long line of fast, low-wing, retractable-gear, cross-country bullets that go back before World War II. Bellanca monoplanes have qualified as antiques, classics, and classic-contemporaries and were produced well into the ’70s as post-contemporary classic A-to-B speedsters. Its masterfully built all-wood wings have lost favor in a world in love with sheet metal and composites, but the monoplanes have attracted a hardcore group of enthusiasts to them. Currently, the aircraft are supported by Alexandria Aircraft LLC in Alexandria, Minnesota. Speed never goes out of fashion. 

Commander 112/114 (Rockwell)

Introduced in 1972 by Rockwell’s Aero Commander division, the Commander’s design broke new ground when it came to both interiors and exteriors. One of the more rakish-appearing aircraft to emerge before composites took over, the four-place, retractable-gear aircraft sports a cabin that is nearly 4 feet wide, making it one of the roomiest four-place aircraft of all time. The airplane went through several engines in a push for performance. The original 112 used a 180-hp Lycoming that was quickly upgraded to 200 hp. The airplane is no lightweight, so it was continually upgraded and evolved into the Model 114 with a 260-hp O-540 Lycoming. Approximately 600-700 of all models were built. Its looks alone should make it a yet-to-be-discovered classic. 


Okay, let’s admit it. In one way or another, a century or two in the future, the Cessna 172 is likely to still be in production or at least will still be dominating the aircraft fleet. However, there is one Cessna, the 177 Cardinal, that is likely to stand out as a classic. If nothing else, it will stand out because of its looks and the fact that it is a “different” Cessna. Produced from 1966 to 1978, 4,200 rolled off the production lines. It had its early teething problems but found a following in those who liked the sportier handling and looks. Plus, it sits low, it is easy to board, and the pilot is positioned farther forward for better visibility. Initially designed to be a replacement for the 172, the 177 suffered because its sportier handling was “not like a Cessna” and it had its detractors. Plus, power was rapidly increased from 150 hp to as much as 200 hp on the retractable versions. The very “differentness” that may have caused its production demise will continue to attract pilots looking for something unique and classic. 

Cubs: The Endless Variations

When talking about Cubs, we’re covering a huge range of ages and types. C.G. Taylor designed and built the first Cubs in the late 1920s going into the ’30s. Bill Piper and his designer, Walter Jamoneau, built on that with the iconic J-3 of 1938, and we’re still building some variation of them today. Where do you start? The Cubs-to-become-classics-in-the-future aren’t coming out of Piper and haven’t since 1994, the last year the original company built them. However, the PA-18 still lives on in sometimes highly modified form from a number of other companies. CubCrafters, with its FAR Part 23 certified XCub, and Aviat, with its Husky that is aimed at usurping Cubs, are the most recognized players. Like the 172, the Super Cub is likely to just be “there” for as long as airplanes exist. Cubs are the classic-classic airplane. They are classics now and will be far into the future. 

Waco Aircraft Corp.: Modern Biplanes

The company’s former name says it all: Classic Aircraft Corp. Located in Battle Creek, Michigan, and founded in 1983, the company is guaranteed several entries in the classics-of-the-future game because it’s starting off with classic (antique, actually) designs to begin with. These designs are being built with modern materials and accoutrements. 

Its YMF-5 Waco was a 1930s favorite with a huge front cockpit that accommodates two people and stately handling capable of “gentleman aerobatics.” The cockpits can be anything the customer desires with everything from period-perfect steam gauges to solid glass panels. Powered by 275-hp Jacobs radials, the airframe is built to the original factory drawings with FAA-approved modifications to bring some systems up to modern standards. 

When Waco Aircraft decided to produce the popular Great Lakes Model 2T-1A in 2011, it was the biplane’s third production run. All of them were government certified, not experimental. The originals were produced from 1929 to 1933; then Doug Champlin brought them back, modified to run modern engines. Some mounted four ailerons rather than the original two. They were produced from 1973 to 1982 with approximately 150 aircraft produced. Although the Great Lakes is much smaller and lighter than the Waco, the two aircraft offer the sport pilot a wide range of performance and handling, and both exude classic no matter how it is defined. And while both aircraft are modern-built, they are guaranteed classic status for eternity. 

Maule M-4 Jetasen

Maule has been building aircraft since the late ’50s. First, it was homebuilts, but in 1963, B.D. Maule’s design, the M-4, went into production. Powered with a 145-hp Continental (they went as high as 220 hp), rather than having the huge, rectilinear tail now associated with later model Maules, it had a rounded, very 1940s-looking tail that gave it a distinct vintage postwar look. Although it was technically produced until 1983, it was totally overshadowed by the later designs. In recent years, it has been re-introduced with the rounded tail design intact, but the shorter wings are replaced with the longer late model wings with a more efficient airfoil and flaps. The M-4’s reincarnation is now a viable two-place airplane with a huge baggage area, as opposed to being a marginal four-place like the originals, which was true of many 1950s supposedly four-place aircraft. So, in effect, this is similar to the Great Lakes and Waco being continued production antiques in that the M-4’s 1940s looks are combined with today’s materials and panel goodies. 

Taylorcraft F-19/21

The dream of putting postwar classic airplanes back into production has been attempted with a large number of different types with varying amounts of success. The 1946 Taylorcraft BC-12D is one of those. Most of the original production was the nearly 3,000 built during the 1946 light airplane explosion, which lasted about 18 months. The Taylorcraft was revived in 1973 as the F-19, sporting a 100-hp O-200 in place of the original 65-hp Continental A-65. Approximately 120 were built before Continental dropped the O-200 in 1980, and the new F-21 Taylorcraft appeared with a 118-hp Lycoming O-235. Less than 50 were built before production was shut down in 1990. Both of the new versions featured updated structure including aluminum spars and other modern improvements. Of course they got heavier, but with the bigger engines they had better performance, and the weight helped get rid of the tendency of the lightly loaded T-crafts to float during landing. Because of the airfoil and general aerodynamics, the T-crafts were, and are, faster than comparable aircraft of the period. 

Varga/Shinn/Morrisey Kachina

The Kachina 2150 is one of the more overlooked aircraft of all time. That is possibly because less than 200 were built beginning in the early 1960s and limping along until 1982 under various ownerships (Morrisey, Shinn, and Varga in that order). Powered with the ever-popular Lycoming O-320 (18 were built with 180-hp O-360s), the unique but delightful appearance of the airplane says it is aimed at sport flying from the get-go. Unfortunately, regardless of its appearance, it is not — I repeat, not— designed for aerobatics, which is a shame. Based on appearance alone, there is no possible way this aircraft will not be considered a classic by future generations. Its handling characteristics have a 172-esque feeling to them that’s pleasing in almost all areas.

What About Really New Aircraft? Will They Become Classics?

The ’90s and 2000s have been amazing years for new aircraft designs. Almost all of the designs have taken advantage of new airframe and avionics technology. This is where it becomes difficult to tell what will become classic and what won’t. The Diamond series of aircraft are, for instance, right at the leading edge of design. The two-place DA20 and four-place DA40 are definitely where aircraft are headed. The same could be said of Cirrus and Columbia designs. This is where progress is being made, while older, tried and true, traditional aluminum aircraft being produced are simply older designs with better engines (usually) and glass cockpits. As this is being written, the C-172 and C-182 are both nearly old enough to qualify for social security. Still, there seems to be a demand for them. This demand says there’s a respect for tradition and a willingness to pay for it. And this is a leading indicator in the definition of “classic.” 

So, 50 years from now, let’s all get together and discuss the new crop of classic airplanes. 

Budd Davisson is an aeronautical engineer, has flown more than 300 different types, and has published four books and more than 4,000 articles. He is editor-in-chief of Flight Journalmagazine and a flight instructor primarily in Pitts/tailwheel aircraft. Visit him on For more from Budd, read his Shop Talk column every month in EAA Sport Aviation.

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