• How many different aircraft types are there?

    The Ultimate Guide

Aviation is as vast as the skies we traverse daily, so it’s no surprise that there are countless types of aircraft, each designed and built for a variety of purposes.

In this post, we aim to provide you with an extensive guide covering the majority of aircraft types, from small propeller planes to large cargo aircraft.

First, we will look at the different ways to classify aircraft, whether by purpose, wings, size, or engines. Once that’s clear, we’ll delve into the details of the most popular types of aircraft. Interested? Then keep reading!

Heavier-than-Air and Lighter-than-Air Aircraft: What’s the Difference?

The first classification of aircraft we’ll discuss is based on their weight.

Heavier-than-Air Aircraft

These are aircraft that are heavier than air and can generate lift on their own. As you might guess, most of this post will focus on this category, which includes all airplanes, gliders, seaplanes, or ekranoplans, which we’ve previously covered in our post about ground effect.

Lighter-than-Air Aircraft

Conversely, lighter-than-air aircraft are those that float thanks to a gas contained within them, such as hot air balloons and airships.

If you’re keen to learn more about airships, don’t miss our post on the Hindenburg, the largest airship ever built. It’s sure to captivate you!

Types of Aircraft by Purpose

Commercial or Passenger Aircraft

These are designed to transport passengers. They range from smaller aircraft for regional routes to large jumbos for transoceanic flights.

We’ll explore this category in more detail later in the post.

Cargo Aircraft

Specially designed to transport all kinds of goods, these aircraft are usually large, with a wider fuselage and more wheels on the landing gear.

Military Aircraft

This category includes fighters, bombers, surveillance aircraft, and many other types for military missions. There are even military cargo planes.

We’ll break down this category further later on.

Private Aircraft

From small propeller planes to luxurious jets, any aircraft intended for personal and private use falls into this category.

Specialised Aircraft

This includes aircraft designed for specific tasks, such as agricultural planes, firefighting seaplanes, rescue planes, and patrol aircraft.

But did you know there are also hospital planes? Yes, indeed! Check out our linked post for more information.

Experimental Aircraft

These are prototype aircraft in development, such as new supersonic planes. Do you think these will move to the commercial category in the near future? Time will tell!

Types of Aircraft by Propulsion Method

Single-Engine Piston Aircraft

These are the most common small aircraft found at local aerodromes and airports. They are widely used for personal flights, pilot training, and light transport. Propelled by a single piston engine that drives the propeller, they are simple and extremely reliable.

At One Air, we’ve Diamonds DA20 C1, Diamonds DA40 NG, Cirrus SR20 and Tecnams P2008JC MKII Premium Edition aircraft.

Multi-Engine Piston Aircraft

Ideal for advanced flight training, long-distance travel, and light cargo transport, these aircraft have two engines, greatly enhancing safety and range, especially over water or remote areas.

In our fleet, we have two types of twin-engine piston aircraft: the Diamond DA42 and the Tecnam P2006T Premium Edition.

Turboprop Aircraft

These are a middle ground between piston engine aircraft and jet aircraft, using turbine engines to generate thrust and also incorporating propellers.

Known for their high efficiency and power, turboprops can take off and land on short runways, making them perfect for reaching remote areas.

Notable examples include the Pilatus PC-12 and the Cessna Grand Caravan, often used in regional commercial flights and private journeys.

Jet Aircraft

Powered by powerful jet engines, these include most of the commercial aircraft we are familiar with.

This category includes twin-engine jets like the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737, four-engine jets like the Boeing 747 and Airbus A380, and even six-engine giants like the Stratolaunch.

And if you want to read more about three-engine aeroplanes, which there also were, don’t miss the post we’ve linked to.


At the opposite end of the spectrum, gliders or sailplanes are lightweight aircraft with large wings and usually no engines.

They are towed to altitude by another plane and then glide gracefully using atmospheric currents.

So, if you’re wondering if a plane can fly without engines, the answer is yes, it can.

Types of Aircraft by Wing Configuration

Fixed-Wing Aircraft

These are what we simply refer to as aeroplanes, with wings rigidly attached to the fuselage.

Rotary-Wing Aircraft

These include helicopters and other rotorcraft, like autogyros, which gain lift from rotating blades, commonly called rotors.


There are experimental aircraft with tilt-rotors that combine features of both fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft. Stay tuned to our blog for upcoming posts on these.

Types of Aircraft by Landing Capability


Designed to take off and land on water, they are commonly used for firefighting and accessing remote areas.

There are two types: floatplanes with floats instead of a conventional undercarriage, and flying boats, which float thanks to their boat-shaped fuselage.

Amphibious Aircraft

These hybrid aircraft can take off and land on both water and runways.

Types of Commercial Aircraft by Size and Capacity

Regional Aircraft

Medium aircraft that connect small cities or cover short distances, carrying 70 to 100 passengers. Examples include the Bombardier CRJ series and Embraer E-Jets.

Narrow-Body Aircraft

With a capacity of up to 200 passengers, these are the most common single-aisle aircraft, such as the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 family.

Wide-Body Aircraft

Larger aircraft for long-haul flights, with two aisles and capacities of up to 400 passengers, like the Boeing 777 and Airbus A380.

Types of Military Aircraft by Function


Designed for air combat, these aircraft are agile and fast, with examples including the F-16 Fighting Falcon and F-35 Lightning II.


Known for their long-range capabilities and heavy payloads, such as the B-2 Spirit.

Cargo and Tanker Aircraft

Large transport aircraft like the C-130 Hercules and refuelling tankers like the KC-135 Stratotanker are vital for logistics and support in military operations.

By the way, have you ever seen how an aeroplane is refuelled in flight? We told you about it in our post about the fuel used by aircraft.

Surveillance Aircraft

Used in patrol missions and border surveillance.

A Glimpse into the Past: Remembering Biplanes

Biplanes, with their two sets of wings, are more than relics; they are our link to the early days of modern aviation.

Initially, aircraft were made from wood and fabric, with the monoplane being the preferred design. It wasn’t until 1896 that the biplane configuration was adopted to optimise flight for powered aircraft.

Biplanes enjoyed significant popularity, especially during World War I, but with advancements in engine power and metal construction, their performance limitations led to their decline.

Today, biplanes are still used for specific tasks like agriculture and aerobatic competitions.

What Future Flight Innovations Lie Ahead?

As technology advances, we can expect all sorts of innovations in aviation. Who knows? Not long ago, electric aircraft seemed impossible, yet now they’re a reality!

Whether you’re a pilot, an aviation enthusiast, or simply someone who enjoys looking at the clouds, the world of aircraft is endlessly fascinating.

As you’ve seen in this post, each type of aircraft has its own story, showcasing human ingenuity and our eternal desire to conquer the skies.

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