20 planes for flying buffs – from Boeing to Airbus

CNN  — 

We’re flying more than ever.

At any one time, the skies are buzzing with activity – air traffic measured in Revenue Passenger Kilometers has grown 85% in the past 15 years and Airbus’s Global Market Forecast 2015 predicts it will grow 145% by 2034.

The air traveler of today has a wide spread of frequencies, connections and types of service available to them – but there’s one area where choice has narrowed.

Growing consolidation in the aircraft manufacturing industry, driven by its huge capital requirements and massive economies of scale, means we’re flying in an increasingly narrower range of airliner types.

While there’s much to admire in the most recent aircraft models, those looking for unconventional flying experiences will have to try harder.

Here, in part one of our selection of iconic aircraft today’s aviation enthusiast may still be able to fly in, are 20 of our favorite planes from the last 50 years.

de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter

First flight: 1965

Often used as a commuter aircraft providing service to small communities, the Twin Otter is a small, solid aircraft that’s nevertheless capable of the most incredible landings.

For example, it provides service to the Caribbean island of Saba – which has the shortest commercial landing strip in the world – as well as nearby Saint Barts, where pilots must undergo special training before they’re permitted to land.

Flying into any of these airports on a DHC-6 is an experience no aviation enthusiast will want to miss.

MORE: Touring the Caribbean’s most dramatic landing strips

Boeing 737

First flight: 1967

This aircraft is surely familiar to today’s frequent flyer. The Boeing 737 is the best-selling airliner of all time.

Some 9,000 of them, which come in many variants, have been built since 1967, making it ubiquitous in all corners of the globe.

Which means you’re unlikely to run out of opportunities to fly in a Boeing 737 anytime soon.

As it approaches its 50th anniversary, the Boeing 737 is still going strong: the updated MAX version first flew in January 2016 and already has an order book numbering in the thousands.

MORE: Boeing 737 MAX maiden flight roars off the runway

Boeing 747

First flight: 1969

Few aircraft have achieved the iconic status of the Boeing 747, commonly known as the Jumbo Jet.

Its easily recognizable shape, with two decks on the forward section, helped it gain popularity, but the Jumbo is impressive for other reasons as well.

Its capacity, reach and reliability have made it a “queen of the skies” for over four decades.

Despite the fact that its latest iteration, the Boeing 747-8, hasn’t been a huge commercial success and many airlines have started to withdraw earlier versions of the type, there are still so many Jumbos in service that opportunities to fly on a Boeing 747 will be around for decades to come.

Some of the largest operators right now include major airlines such as British Airways and Lufthansa.

MORE: Why the sun is setting on the Boeing 747

Ilyushin Il-76

The Il-76: Used for firefighting, emergency response transport and music videos.

First flight: 1971

Although its primary role since entering service with the Soviet Air Force in 1974 has been military transport, the Il-76 is capable of performing a multitude of other roles, from firefighting to passenger service.

The Il-76 is a reliable, solid, four-engine aircraft, able to operate from unpaved, short runways or drop paratroopers or supplies in war zones. It’s still in production, although very few of them are in service as civilian airliners.

Short of joining the Russian army, the easiest way to fly on an Il-76 is to go on a North Korean aviation tour or get in touch with Alrosa, a Russian airline that still operates the type.

It’s also possible to book zero gravity flights on an Il-76 MDK out of Moscow Star City.

An Il-76 MDK was the setting of a recent music video by band OK Go, known for their viral hits.

MORE: Belarus to North Korea: Ultimate tour for aviation geeks

Antonov An-72/An-74

First flight (An-72): 1977

First flight (An-74): 1983

This is possibly one of the weirdest-looking aircraft out there. The An-72 and its later version, the An-74, are nicknamed Cheburashka because the engine configuration, with two jet engines mounted on top of the fuselage, makes it look like a popular Soviet cartoon character of the same name.