Avgeek Alert: 4 Basic Types of Aircraft Besides Commercial Airliners


As a commercial airline, in our blog we naturally focus heavily on commercial airliners. But here´s a quick primer on the bulk of the other types of planes plying the skies of the world.

Cargo Planes

Many people think of these as similar to passenger aircraft, just transporting goods instead of people. Well, yes and no.

First off, of course, the main difference is that in a cargo plane there are no seats, but rather a large empty space punctuated by various fastening systems that ensure the stability of the merchandise during the flight, such as pallets and containers. Access to this space is also quite different: via ramps and loading doors, with lifting machines used to transfer the loads.

Depending on the volume of merchandise to be moved, or the distance to be covered, one or another aircraft will be used. For example, narrow-body or turboprop aircraft are used for regional or short-haul transport. Wide-body aircraft are left for long-distance transport, or what are known as converted freighters (that is, aircraft that were once passenger aircraft and whose life is extended by adapting them as freight transport aircraft).

Air transport continues to play a crucial role in world commerce; For example, when reducing delivery times is essential, when the goods being transported degrade easily, if extra security is needed in transportation that the speed of the plane can offer us.

Military Aircraft

Seen mostly by the general public in air shows or on movie screens, in general, planes meant for war are of necessity lighter and faster than passenger or transport airplanes.

In addition to fighters, designed for aerial combat, or bombers, there are military transport aircraft, used to ferry cargo, supplies, equipment, and troops, as well as aircraft for firefighting, training, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, which collect information and perform more tactical functions. Surveillance aircraft are often equipped with high-tech systems, with models including the MQ-9 Predator B. Among military transport aircraft, in Spain, for example, the Airbus C-295 is used (for a complete list of Spanish military aircraft, check out its Department of Defense website).

Pilot Trainers

Pilots undergo very extensive training also in terms of flight hours, and a large part of this is carried out on these aircraft, both civilian and military, which are made specifically for this purpose – and not just future pilots but also those currently active to update their skills and train in new ones.

In general, there are three types: basic (lighter and easier to pilot), advanced (for training that’s more specialised, in more complex flight maneuvers, or in the case of military pilots, in tactics), and flight simulators. These last are obviously not aircraft per se but do play an important role in pilot training because their sophistication means that all types of flight conditions and scenarios can be reproduced with great fidelity (especially important when it comes to weather, which can be otherwise difficult to predict in training situations).

Executive Jets

This is a category which carry passengers but aren´t commercial, and they fulfill very specific functions. Although the vast majority of business trips are made on commercial flights, executive jets are operated by companies which offer their fleet as a rental service (although for sure there are also private jets owned by corporations and wealthy individuals). For the most part they´re lighter and smaller than commercial airliners (though larger models also exist), and can land in smaller airports usually not accessible to full-size airliners.

Photo: pierivb