In the semi-finals of AOPA’s Favorite Aircraft Challenge, four of the toughest competitors in this bracket tournament all represented a different niche in our aviation world. It took two weeks of voting through several rounds, but on the eve of the championship voting slated for Sunday and Monday, April 1 and 2, one tough warbird was set to face off against a stout, capable bush plane, while everyone’s favorite little vintage taildragger had the enormous challenge of matching up against possibly the most legendary airplane ever built.
The first semi-final battle had the mighty P-51 Mustang in what should have been its toughest fight yet against the de Havilland Beaver. Voting was fierce, with two loyal groups trying to send their favorite ship into the finals. But in what can only be called a blowout, the Mustang grabbed one of the two spots in the championship contest by sending the Beav’ back to Wasilla. It was said by one voter that "granted, I would have to win the Lottery to be able to operate/own a P-51, but their sound, their lines and their performance has always intrigued me since boyhood. Bob Hoover could make this bird dance like no one else."
In the second matchup of the “Four on Final” round, the mega-popular, completely adorable Piper J-3 Cub stared down the nose of the Douglas DC-3 in what was one of the closest contests of this challenge. The Cubbie came into this one with a large contingent of fans, one of which said “the J-3 is a simple, minimal, classic design that will live forever! There is no way any true pilot could vote against a Cub.” But despite a late Cub rally to overcome an early DC-3 lead, when the final buzzer sounded in this classic battle, the history, proven performance, and incredibly awesome good looks of the Douglas was just too powerful for the small but tenacious Cub, which finally was eliminated from the competition.
The DC-3 win sets up the dream contest of this tourney between it and the powerful P-51. The Mustang brings brawn, sexy speed, a very large fan base, and, well, guns, into the championships. The ’Stang earned its berth in the final contest because it is the one airplane that stops everything at a major air show when it blasts skyward. Pilots cannot look away, the Mustang is that addicting. The sound it makes as it dives towards show center is mesmerizing, and you can be assured it will bring a big, big vote to this last matchup.
But the DC-3 is worshiped among aviators with the kind of reverence reserved for only a handful of airplanes as important to aviation history as the storied Gooney. When a DC-3 or C-47 fires up and begins the symphony of airplane noise that only a pair of Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp radial engines can produce, it does something to a pilot’s soul. Who hasn’t heard a story about a DC-3 limping home through a thunderstorm, or a C-47 dodging ground fire to land on a beach to pick up injured soldiers? This is the airplane that built the airlines, and voters will not forget that important part of the Douglas’ legend.
Since I am paid to make predictions, I must choose one winner. After the last vote is cast in the championship, the brute force of the P-51 will try to power its way to the title with guns blazing. But the DC-3 has proven for generations to be able to excel under extreme adversity, and will prevail as the 2012 AOPA Favorite Aircraft Challenge champion.
Remember that as the challenge comes down to this final round, your vote is extremely important. Be sure to vote Sunday, April 1 and Monday, April 2 to help decide the outcome of this fun and exciting competition.
Dan Pimentel, an instrument-rated private pilot based in Eugene, Ore., who has flown more than 425 hours in 16 years of flying, is also an aviation author and writes the Airplanista Aviation Blog.