PenHero 365: Parker 51 Flighter

by Jim Mamoulides, January 17, 2010

Parker 51 Flighter
Parker 51 Flighter fountain pen cap and hooded nib detail

Parker introduced the landmark Parker 51 in 1941. Many collectors see the advent of the Parker 51 as the changeover point from classic fountain pen design to modern, as the 51 introduced numerous completely new design elements. These include, first and foremost, a completely new nib and feed design, with the tiny tubular 14 karat gold nib housed inside a long hood with a large finned collector as a key element of the feed, keeping the ink flow wet. The pen used a new slip-on cap, using a fingered clutching inner cap to grasp the edges of the slightly raised ring that separates the barrel and section. The barrel and hooded section was made from Lucite, a new plastic also used to make the canopies of airplanes.

Parker 51 Flighter
Parker 51 Flighter fountain pen open

The new Parker 51 was like no other pen on the market, and Parker advertised it as, "The world's most wanted pen," a truism for even today's pen collectors. Parker used the numeric model name "51" to symbolize the company's 51st anniversary in 1939, the year Parker finished development. The 51 continued in production, through several design changes, until 1972. Parker reissued the 51 as a special edition in 2002.

Parker 51 Flighter
Parker 51 Flighter fountain pen open showing Foto-Fill unit

The biggest improvement to the Parker 51 happened in 1948, with the introduction of the "Aero-metric" Parker 51 with the new "Foto-Fill" filler, replacing the proven Vacumatic system with a much more simplified unit. The new filling system is essentially a simple squeeze filler with a breather tube that allows the clear "Pli-Glass" plastic ink sac to fill more completely and also acts as an air pressure control, allowing the pen to be used at higher altitudes without leaking. The entire line was updated with a removable barrel to access the new filler and the clip design was updated to a simpler, cleaner version of the Arrow clip.

Parker 51 Flighter
Parker 51 Flighter fountain pen closed with Liquid Lead pencil and case

In late 1949, Parker introduced its first all stainless steel pen with gold filled trim, the Parker 51 Flighter. The Flighter was updated in 1950 with a shorter clip and a "squeeze 4 times" filler. Later in the 1950s, Parker dropped the gold filled cap band.

The Parker 51 Flighter appeals to me primarily because of the sleek look and feel of the stainless steel. This is a very timeless, modern looking pen that I think is Parker's very best design. There is nothing anachronistic or out of date. It's just about the perfect pen. All stainless steel pens start off cold to the touch, but warm up gradually as you use them. Although the finish is smooth and shiny, it's not slippery. I like this better than some of the heavily brushed finishes Parker used on later stainless steel models.

The Parker 51 Flighter is a medium weight pen, weighing 0.8 ounce and being 5 7/16 inches long with the cap on and 6 1/16 inches with the cap posted on the end of the barrel.

Parker 51 Flighter
Parker 51 Flighter fountain pen and Liquid Lead pencil in case

My Parker 51 Flighter is from the mid 1950s and came in a boxed set with a matching Liquid Lead pencil. This is one of the easiest pens to fill, dunk the section in the ink bottle and squeeze the filler four firm strokes and wipe. The hood is easy to wipe off, and always looks clean. Although the nib is tiny and mostly hidden, Parker 51s are not about flashes of gold but solid performance, though the firm nibs won't add any character to your strokes. A reliable, dependable pen, but also a bit on the boring side. I find that though I really like this pen and never stop enjoying it, I am always eventually picking up something more flashy.

From the introduction of the Parker 51 Flighter to the present, Parker has made over twenty different Flighter models in different pen lines, so there are a lot to choose from if you want to focus on stainless steel pens. They are present in many different price points, so if you can't afford a Parker 51 Flighter, then there are other lower priced Flighters to choose from.

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