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The best of the best Members vote for the best AOPA Pilot covers from the past 50 years A magazine’s cover is in many ways its prime identity. It’s the first glimpse of what’s to come after the issue arrives in the mail.

The best of the best

Members vote for the best AOPA Pilot covers from the past 50 years

A magazine’s cover is in many ways its prime identity. It’s the first glimpse of what’s to come after the issue arrives in the mail. It’s what sells publications on the newsstand. It proudly displays the name, or flag. And above all else, it’s a great way for fantastic photos to be showcased.

The design of AOPA Pilot has changed much over the past 50 years. The first issues of the magazine featured photos that looked nice, but had nothing to do with the content inside. Today, the magazine features cover stories that draw the reader inside for more.

In celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the magazine, we asked you, the members, to vote on the best covers from the past 50 years. Voting was broken down by decades, starting with 1958 to 1967, and so on. Here then are the winners.


May 1959

The magazine has featured odd or unusual airplanes on the cover at various times throughout the years, but perhaps none as odd as the Taylor Aerocar. N103D was serial number two and one of only six ever built. Incidentally, the photo had nothing to do with the inside content of the magazine, which seems peculiar today—especially when you consider this issue marked the association’s twentieth anniversary.


January 1972

What is it about beautiful landscapes and flying? In this case, members thought enough of the rather majestic photo to award it the most votes of any cover from the past 50 years. Forget the Cub, the Voyager, special issues dealing with the future of general aviation, and AOPA’s fiftieth anniversary. Pilots want to see Bonanzas and glaciers. This photo was taken by Bob Auburn as the V-tail Bonanza passed over the Chetalothna Glacier in Alaska’s Denali National Park. Auburn was half of a husband and wife team that spent almost four months in the state filming a show called Flying Alaska.


January 1986

Longtime AOPA Pilot Art Director Art Davis snapped this memorable photo of Burt Rutan’s Voyager before its historic nonstop flight. The shoot was something of an exclusive for the magazine and was just one example of how it has been at the forefront of general aviation through the years. In fact, the photographs and accompanying story appeared in the magazine almost a year before Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager took to the skies and circled the globe without refueling. It created an aviation buzz that the world hadn’t seen in decades.


September 1993

The Learjet 23, the world’s first popular light business jet, was an interesting choice to highlight that month’s “Turbine Pilot” section. The story was a brief history of the airplane’s first flight, taken nearly 30 years earlier. AOPA Pilot Senior Photographer Mike Fizer shot the 23 from a low angle to highlight the lights reflecting off the wet pavement, made that way thanks to a utility truck. The ominous overcast layer was just an added bonus.


September 2003

Sometimes the best cover is an iconic aircraft like the Cessna 172, and other times it’s just a beautiful photograph, like this one taken by senior photographer Mike Fizer. Like the Aerocar, this Sikorsky S–38 Amphibion is an unusual aircraft with a nostalgic appeal. Fizer’s photograph sets the zebra-striped airplane in front of southern Nevada’s sparse desert and beautifully captures the romance of such a wonderful machine. Of course, being sea-worthy, no photo of an S–38 is complete without water.

Maintaining a theme

Some of AOPA Pilot’s more popular covers over the years have been those that wrap a themed issue. These magazines can range from two or three feature stories to entire editions dedicated to a single, cohesive issue or idea, much like this fiftieth anniversary issue. There’s no set schedule for when they are published. Rather, the editors come together and decide that an issue is important enough that it deserves a strong, detailed presence in the magazine. Sometimes, such as the October 1989 issue centered on the association’s fiftieth anniversary, the choice is easy because the magazine is focused on an event. But recent theme issues such as June 2005’s “The State of General Aviation” take more consideration. Either way, theme issues and their associated covers are a great way to grab the reader with an unusual cover. Take that June 2005 issue for example. The mosaic of more than 2,500 photographs from AOPA’s archives was compiled to create the digital image of a Columbia 400. And who could forget July 1986? That simple close-up photo of a Piper Cub tail with the bear cub emblem spoke for itself in what has become an iconic issue. The March 1996 issue was dedicated solely to buying an airplane, something almost all members strive towards. Finally, the August 2007 issue featuring “A Day in the Life of America’s Airports” was a huge success that incorporated new multimedia tools not available when AOPA Pilot first dedicated its cover to saving airports. That was in August 1989.

March 1958 | The AOPA Pilot debuts. Once a section in Flying magazine, the idea to publish a standalone, AOPA-produced magazine came as a result of the association’s growing membership in the late 1950s (see “ AOPA’s Big Idea,” page 72).

March 17, 1958 | The Vanguard I satellite, launched successfully by the United States, is now the oldest manufactured object in orbit. It hasn’t been actively transmitting for many years, but it is in a highly stable orbit and will probably remain there for several hundred more years.

March 25, 1960 | Joseph A. Walker is the first NASA pilot to fly the North American X-15 rocket plane after A. Scott Crossfield, the manufacturer’s test pilot.

March 9, 1961 | FAA Administrator Najeeb E. Halaby launches the “air share” program under which he and other top FAA officials met the general aviation community in a series of “hangar sessions” to discuss changes in the Civil Air Regulations. These meetings afforded airmen the opportunity to “air” their views and “share” the benefits of improved rules for safe flying.

March 23, 1965 | The Gemini III is launched. It is the first U.S. two-man space flight; pilots are Gus Grissom and John Young. The four-hour, 52-minute flight into space is dubbed the voyage of the “Molly Brown” and is famous for the corned beef sandwich that was smuggled onto the flight.

March 27, 1967 | The FAA approves a new 2,000-candlepower runway centerline light to permit operations under visibility as low as 700 feet.

March 2, 1968 | The U.S. Air Force unveils the Lockheed C–5A Galaxy as it rolls out of the Marietta, Georgia, manufacturing plant. It is the biggest airplane in the world to date.

March 16, 1968 | The FAA prohibits VFR (visual flight rules) operations at or above 10,000 feet msl unless a pilot enjoys a minimum visibility of five miles while remaining at least 1,000 feet vertically and one mile horizontally from clouds.

March 2, 1969 | The first test flight of the supersonic Concorde takes off from Toulouse, France.

March 3, 1969 | Apollo 9 launches and is the third manned mission in the Apollo program, a 10-day (151 earth orbits) mission. Apollo 9 was the first space test of the complete Apollo spacecraft, including the third critical piece of Apollo hardware—the lunar module. For 10 days, astronauts James McDivitt, David Scott, and Russell Schweickart put the Apollo vehicles through their paces in Earth orbit, undocking and then redocking the lunar lander with the command module, just as they would in lunar orbit.

March 1, 1970 | The FAA implements a revised separation standard to protect small aircraft from wake turbulence, rotating air currents trailed by large aircraft. The new standard changed from three miles to five miles the required separation between “heavy” aircraft (more than 300,000 pounds) and all aircraft operating behind it.

March 8, 1974 | Charles de Gaulle International Airport opens in Paris, France.

March 27, 1977 | Pan Am Flight 1736 and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Flight 4805 collide on the foggy runway at Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, killing 583 people. It was the dealiest aviation accident in history.

March 31, 1977 | The 10,000th Beechcraft Bonanza rolls out of the company’s plant, 31 years after the prototype’s first flight in December 1945.

March 28, 1979 | The FAA requires the removal of lithium sulfur dioxide batteries from U.S. civil aircraft. The batteries were used primarily to power emergency locator transmitters (ELTs). The agency acted because of incidents in which the batteries exploded, burned, or leaked gas that formed corrosive acid. The order affected approximately 60,000 aircraft, most of them privately owned.

March 25, 1982 | The thirty-fifth anniversary of the start of Beech Bonanza. Almost 15,000 aircraft were sold in this period, two-thirds of these being the V-tail Model 35.

March 6, 1990 | A Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird sets a transcontinental speed record on a flight from Oxnard, California, to Salisbury, Maryland, at an average speed of 2,124.05 mph (Mach 2.8) in slightly less than one hour and eight minutes.

March 16, 1991 | Seven members of country-western singer Reba McEntire’s band, along with her road manager and two pilots, are killed when their Hawker twinjet crashes in a mountainous area near the Mexican border. The crash, which leaves no survivors, occurs shortly after takeoff from Brown Field, near San Diego.

March 24, 1992 | The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announces that it will sign open skies treaties with any nations that wish to reciprocate.

March 1, 1999 | The Breitling Orbiter 3, piloted by Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones, rises from a Swiss Alpine village and becomes the first balloon to fly around the world nonstop, landing in the Egyptian desert 19 days, 21 hours, and 35 minutes later.

March 6, 2000 | Eclipse Aviation Corp. launches the Eclipse 500, the first of a new breed of very light jet aircraft. The twin engine jet seats six and is designed for a 423 mph cruising speed, a 41,000-foot service ceiling, and a range of 1,300 nautical miles.

March 27, 2004 | The Guinness Book of World Records recognizes the world speed record set by NASA’s hypersonic X-34A aircraft in an experimental flight over the Pacific Ocean. Using a scramjet engine, the unpiloted, 12-foot-long aircraft achieves Mach 6.83—almost seven times the speed of sound—or nearly 5,000 mph.

March 28, 2007 | The Sporty’s Foundation, a charitable organization to promote aviation education and safety initiatives with emphasis on youth programs, is established by Hal Shevers, founder of Sporty’s Pilot Shop.

A remarkable half century

An interesting time for aviation—and the world

Compiled by Kathryn Opalewski


January | Sputnik I, the world’s first orbiting satellite, reenters the atmosphere and burns.

January 31 | The first U.S. satellite, Explorer I, is launched.

July 29 | President Dwight D. Eisenhower signs the Space Act of 1958, forming NASA.

August 14 | First flight of the Gulfstream I.

August 23 | Eisenhower signs the Federal Aviation Act.

October 26 | Pan Am flies the first transatlantic jet trip from New York to Paris.

December 10 | First domestic (New York to Miami) passenger jet service by National Airlines Flight 707.


February 3 | Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens die when their Beechcraft Bonanza crashes.

February 17 | The Vanguard II satellite is launched into Earth orbit.

July 1 | A new safety rule becomes effective, requiring that holders of first class medical certificates—airline transport pilots—must submit to annual electrocardiograms.


April 1 | The U.S. launches Tiros I, the first of a successful series of weather satellites.

May 1 | American U–2 spy plane, piloted by Francis Gary Powers, is shot down over Russia.


January 14 | The Piper (PA-28) Cherokee takes its first flight.

May 25 | A Special Civil Air Regulation bans the use of portable FM radios on U.S. civil aircraft.

July 19 | Trans World Airlines (TWA) becomes the first airline to introduce regular in-flight movies.

December 15 | The U.S. Air Force graduates its first five military space pilots from the Aerospace Research Pilots School.


The International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations (IAOPA) is formed.

February 20 | Lt. Col. John H. Glenn completes three Earth orbits in the Mercury-Atlas 6 Friendship 7 spacecraft.

February 27 | The FAA announces Project Little Guy to develop simpler, more efficient cockpit layouts for light aircraft.


January 17 | Joe Walker flies the North American X–15A to a height of 271,000 feet.


January 20 | The first Beech King Air flies.


June 2 | Surveyor I becomes the first U.S. spacecraft to make a soft landing on the moon.

September 11 | Tracy Barnes completes the first hot-air-balloon flight across the contiguous U.S.


April 1 | The Federal Aviation Agency becomes the Federal Aviation Administration.

May 1 | The FAA drops its requirement that applicants under 21 years of age have parental or guardian consent for student pilot certificates.


December 21 | Apollo 8, is the first manned mission to orbit the moon.


July 16 | A Saturn V launches Apollo 11 from the Kennedy Space Center.

July 29 | Brazil’s ministry of aeronautics creates Embraer, an aerospace conglomerate.

December | At the end of the decade, AOPA has 141,000 members.


January | The General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) is founded.


May 21 | The FAA establishes the Office of General Aviation.

July 1 | The first flight of the production model of the Cessna Citation.

November 18 | Public Law 92-159 prohibits airborne hunting of birds, fish, and other animals.

November 24 | D. B. Cooper parachutes from the Northwest Orient Airlines airplane he hijacked, with $200,000 in ransom money. He was never heard from again.


May 26 | Cessna completes the company’s 100,000th aircraft.

October 16 | A Cessna 310 carrying Rep. Hale Boggs, and three other men, vanishes in Alaska during a flight from Anchorage to Juneau.


January 29 | Emily H. Warner becomes the first female pilot of a major U.S. scheduled airline, Frontier Airlines.

May 14 | Skylab, the first American space station, is launched.


June 4 | Sally Murphy is the first woman to qualify as an aviator in the U.S. Army.

August 5 | President Richard M. Nixon signs the Anti-Hijacking Act into law.


April 4 | A regulation governing the installation and safe operation of X-ray devices for screening carry-on luggage at airports becomes effective.

July 1 | The FAA establishes Military Operations Areas (MOAs).


April 1 | Piper’s 100,000th airplane, a PA–31T Cheyenne II is rolled out.

April 5 | Howard Hughes dies.

December 21 | The FAA deems contact lenses permissible for use by civilian pilots.


March 27 | A KLM Boeing 747 and a Pan Am Boeing 747 collide on the runway in Tenerife, Spain.

May | John L. Baker is named second president of AOPA.


August 17 | The Double Eagle II is the first balloon to cross the Atlantic.

October 24 | The U.S. airline industry is deregulated.


June 12 | The human-powered Gossamer Albatross crosses the English Channel and wins the Kremer prize.

August 14 | Steve Hinton sets a new speed record in his North American P–51D Mustang Red Baron, at 499 mph.

December | AOPA ends the decade with 245,000 members.


February 18 | President Jimmy Carter signs the Aviation Safety and Noise Abatement Act.

December 3 | Janice Brown flies an the Solar Challenger, to complete the first long-distance solar-powered flight.


April 12 | Space shuttle Columbia launches for its first mission.

August 5 | President Ronald Reagan fires striking air-traffic controllers who ignored his back-to-work order.


January 10 | A Gulfstream III circumnavigates the globe in 47 hours, 39 minutes.


June 18 | The space shuttle Challenger launches. Dr. Sally Ride, aged 32, is the first female U.S. astronaut.

August 24 | A Canadair Challenger 601 sets a new world distance record for business jets.


July 19 | Lynn Rippelmeyer is the first woman to captain a 747 across the Atlantic and Beverly Burns is the first woman to captain a 747 cross-country.

October 4 | Sixty-one-year-old Elaine Yadwin lands a Piper Cherokee Warrior II safely in Florida after her husband, the airplane’s pilot, dies during the flight.


May 29 | The world’s largest aircraft, the Antonov AN124, makes its first appearance.

November 18 | General Dynamics purchases Cessna.


January 28 | Space shuttle Challenger explodes killing all seven astronauts aboard.

February 15 | The maiden flight of the Beechcraft Starship, designed by Burt Rutan.

July 6 | President Ronald Reagan proclaims National Air Traffic Control Day in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of air traffic control.


May 28 | Mathias Rust, a 19-year-old German pilot, flies a Cessna 172 undetected to Moscow’s Red Square.


February 8 | The FAA retires airplane registration number NR16020, on the aircraft flown by Amelia Earhart when she disappeared over the Pacific Ocean.

August 28 | 75 people are killed and 346 injured in one of the worst air show disasters in history at Germany’s Ramstein Air Base.


January 24 | The Pentagon lifts a ban on pin-ups to decorate U.S. Air Force aircraft fuselages.

July 17 | The Northrop B2 makes its first flight.

December | AOPA ends the decade with 300,000 members.


April 25 | The Hubble Space Telescope is launched aboard space shuttle Discovery.

June 29 | Bombardier acquires Learjet.

November 16 | President George Bush signs the Aviation Security Improvement Act.


January 1 | Phil Boyer becomes the third president of AOPA in its 51-year history.

December 4 | Pan American World Airlines (Pan Am) ceases operations after 64 years.

December 17 | The FAA publishes a rule to establish six classes of airspace designated by single letters.


April 30 | George Bush signs an order authorizing the privatization of airports and other public assets built with federal assistance.


January 27 | Boeing and Airbus Industry launch a development program for a “super jumbo” jet.

November 18 | American Airlines’ flight attendants strike.


April 21 | Maj. Jacquelyn Susan “Jackie” Parker is the first female fighter pilots assigned to an F–16 Viper squadron.

June 7 | Vicki Van Meter, 12, of Meadville, Pennsylvania, is the youngest pilot to fly across the Atlantic in a Cessna 210.

June 12 | The first computer-designed commercial aircraft, the Boeing 777-200, flies.

August 17 | President Bill Clinton signs the General Aviation Revitalization Act.

August 30 | Lockheed and Martin Marietta merge creating Lockheed Martin.


April 6 | Mooney produces its 10,000th aircraft.


April 11 | Jessica Dubroff, a seven-year-old pilot in training, dies when her Cessna 177B crashes during her attempt to become the youngest student pilot to fly across the United States. (The accident spawns the AOPA-supported “Child Pilot Safety Act,” which prohibits a pilot in command to allow a nonpilot to manipulate the aircraft’s controls in any record-setting attempt.)

June 29 | The original “Air Force One,” a Boeing VC137 is taken out of service.

July 3 | Cessna’s new single-engine assembly plant dedicated in Independence, Kansas.


May 28 | Linda Finch flies a restored 62-year-old Lockheed Electra 10E to recreate the 1931 Amelia Earhart flight to circumnavigate the globe solo in 73 days.

November 24 | Bombardier Aerospace delivers its 400th aircraft, a Challenger 604 wide body business jet.


October 8 | Ken Blackburn keeps a paper airplane aloft for 27.6 seconds (indoors).

December 16 | Lt. Kendra Williams, U.S. Navy, becomes the first female combat pilot to bomb an enemy target over Iraq during Operation Desert Fox.


January | AOPA buys Flight Training magazine.

July 16 | John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and sister Lauren G. Bessette, are killed when the Piper Saratoga Kennedy was piloting crashes near Martha’s Vineyard off the Massachusetts coast.

October 25 | Golfer Payne Stewart and six others die when their Learjet 35 crashes.

December | AOPA ends the decade with 357,644 members.


January 1 | Despite Y2K fears, the ATC system is unaffected.


November 10 | Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University celebrates its 75th anniversary.

December 10 | The first North American built DA40–180 Diamond Star flies.


January 5 | After stealing a Cessna 172, a teenager crashes the aircraft into an office building in Tampa, Florida.

May 2 | Erik Lindbergh lands the New Spirit of St. Louis in Paris.

December 9 | United Airlines files for Chapter 11 reorganization. It is the largest airline bankruptcy in U.S. history.


May 28 | Cirrus delivers an SR22 airplane to its first Russian customer.

August 11 | Skip Holm, flying the P–51D Dago Red, sets a new closed-course piston-engine speed record of 507 mph.

December 17 | The 100th birthday of aviation is celebrated.


June 23 | Mike Melvill takes SpaceShipOne to an altitude of more than 62.5 miles to become the first civilian astronaut.

July 27 | Cessna unveils the all-glass avionics system (Garmin G1000) for new Skyhawks.

December | AOPA ends the year with 404,000 members.


January 18 | The world’s largest passenger airplane, the Airbus A380, is unveiled.

July 2 | Steve Fossett and co-pilot Mark Rebholz re-create the first nonstop crossing in a balloon of the Atlantic.


February 11 | Steve Fosset sets the absolute world record for “distance without landing,” (25,766 miles) in the Virgin-Atlantic GlobalFlyer.

April 4 | The Cessna 172 Skyhawk turns 50.

October 11 | New York Yankees player Cory Lidle dies when his Cirrus SR20 crashes in New York City.


April 6 | Mooney’s new M20TN Acclaim sets a new cross-country speed record.

June 27 | Barrington Irving becomes the youngest and first African-American pilot to fly solo around the world in his Columbia 400, named Inspiration.

September 3 | Steve Fossett disappears while flying his Citabria Super Decathalon in the Nevada desert.

November | Cessna acquires Columbia Aircraft Corp.

AOPA Project Pilot: Watching the numbers

Although the pilot population has steadily declined since 1980—when it peaked at 827,071—AOPA continues to find new ways, through planning and study, to ensure a strong pilot population in the future. AOPA’s research over the years has indicated that the majority of active pilots were encouraged or inspired by another pilot. As a result, AOPA launched the AOPA Project Pilot program in April 1994, designed to get new people into flying, and to help lapsed student and private pilots get current again. The program, revitalized in 2006, has helped usher thousands of people into the pilot ranks. But more needs to be done. As the pilot population continues to decline, AOPA is leading the way to keep general aviation alive. Visit the Web site to learn more about how you can make a difference in the future of a prospective pilot and in the future of all of general aviation.— Kate Opalewski

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