The 1950s and 1960s were prime time for design, and the aviation industry was right with the program. New destructive planes were created alongside passenger vehicles in a race for the most useless aircraft. None of these terrible aircrafts should have been allowed to ever leave the ground.
Vought V-173 “The Flying Pancake”
In the Second World War, the US found itself in need of planes that could be operated from the deck of a ship. Enter the Flying Pancake. It was strong and maneuverable because its wings and body were as one. This strange aircraft can be viewed at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Texas.
This aircraft looks like a swan, and it was built in 1979. The unique thing about this plane is that it can pivot its wings – in fact, it was built in order to experiment with this concept. It could even change the position of its wings during flight, kind of like an X-Wing.
Avro VZ9 Avrocar
When we look at this piece of machinery, we can see the origin of the myth of flying saucers. It was even built secretly by the US military, which added another layer of secrecy to the craft. Built in 1958, the project was ultimately a failure – it was slow, unstable, and could only hover a few feet off the ground.
B377PG “The Pregnant Guppy”
This cargo plane was built for NASA and first flew in 1962. It wasn’t made to ship Amazon deliveries – Amazon hadn’t been created yet – but components of the Apollo mission to the moon. NASA later built even larger version, termed ‘Super Guppies’.
Northrop Tacit Blue “The Whale”
This plane looks like it comes from a badly-rendered video game, but it is in fact one of the first examples of stealth technology. First flown in 1982, it proved a big success. It was kept secret from the general public for eleven years before being unveiled in 1996.
Alexander Lippisch’s Aerodyne
Alexander Lippisch was a German aerodynamics engineer and this was one of the experiments for which he is famous. It first flew in 1972 and was capable of reaching supersonic speed. Uniquely for such a fast aircraft, it was powered by two propellers.
Scaled Composites Proteus
This is one of the few aircraft listed here that is still in service. It was built in 1998 and looks like it would be more at home in orbit than in the sky. It can carry large payloads on its ventral pylon and can circle a point for more than 18 hours at 19,800 meters altitude.
De Lackner HZ-1 Aerocycle
This design was about as successful as you would imagine it to be – not very. It fell over in the air twice and the idea was scrapped. It was built in 1954, the idea being that soldiers would use the platform for reconnaissance. However, it is difficult to spy when you keep crashing.
A parasol is an umbrella used to block the sun – hence the name which means in Spanish “for sun”. This aircraft has a circular wing and flew with stability. It was actually built by university students in 1934 to test the concept of a circular wing.
This is not the X-Wing flown by Luke Skywalker but a different one constructed by a company called Sikorsky. The idea was to combine the versatility of a helicopter with the speed of a jet airplane. The program was canceled before it was completed – the Empire wins again!
Lockheed Martin P-791
Airships are buoyant and jet aircraft are fast, and never the twain shall meet. At least, not until the Lockheed Martin P-791 was built. This beast is still available for purchase if you are in the market – it can float and also float at 20,000 feet for three weeks.
The Scaled Composites White Knight Two
This beautiful creation was first flown in 2008 and has a specific purpose – carrying sub-orbital spacecraft. It can reach 70,000 feet, which gives the spacecraft a running start. The cockpit is situated in the fuselage on the right.
Rutan Model 202 Boomerang
You probably thought that all aircraft had to be symmetrical, but this bizarre contraption shows that this isn’t true. This is the Boomerang, so-called because it is shaped like a boomerang – not! Built in 1996, the airplane is designed to retain control is one of its engines fails.
H-4 Hercules 2 “Spruce Goose”
Geese can grow quite large, and that is why this goliath takes its name from the aggressive aquatic birds. Weighing in at 200 tons, you might wonder if this leviathan can even get off the ground – well it did, although only once, in 1947.
Goodyear is a company known for inflating large things, but nobody thought that it could create an airplane that could be blown up and flown for realsies. Well this company proved everyone wrong with its “Inflatoplane”, paid for by the US Army. Sadly, the army changed its mind soon after and withdrew funding.
This scientific experiment proved that wings or propellers are not a prerequisite of flight. Mathematician Leif Ristroph built this naturally stable flying machine, which moves its four flapping wings like a jellyfish. “This is very uncharted territory,” said he.
Kalinin K-7 Airplane
This plane took the name ‘flying fortress’ and made it literal. With its 170 foot wingspan and eleven crew members, the Kalinin K-7 could carry 15,000 lbs of freight but had a top speed of only 140 mph. It was built by the Soviet Union in the 1930s.
Bartini Beriev VVA 14
This looks more like a slumbering sea monster than a plane. The brainchild of Italian engineer Robert Bartini, it was built of the Soviets to counter the threat of enemy submarines. It was designed to take off vertically, float on water, and fly at high altitudes and at high speeds.
Fisher P-75 Eagle
The Fisher P-75 Eagle was meant to be a great success. However, using a weak engine meant that the plane didn’t at all live up to the hype. The plane lacked horsepower and built an underwhelming performance, making it an all in all major disappointment.
The Douglas DC-10 is one of the most dangerous planes to date. 55 fatalities later and the manufacturers finally realized this plane had no business in the skies. One of the most important issues with it was that the cargo doors opened outward instead of inward like most planes. This design flaw caused a badly closed door to fly open in the middle of a flight in 1972. This announced a dire need for redesign. A second similar incident happened just two years later. But what really took the cake was when an engine fell off the wing during takeoff.
Vought F7U Cutlass
This is an aircraft with a unique design. Named the Vought F7U Cutlass, the manufacturers chose to not include tail in the design, which brought in a fair share of issues since its very first flight. There was an additional flaw: the swept wing design. This was a fast plane, to be sure, but it would often struggle to stay skywards. Additionally, the turbojets of the Vought simply weren’t strong enough for takeoffs and landings, which caused three of the prototypes to crash. Twenty-five percent of these planes were destroyed because of these incidents.
Nuclear power plants are home to several nuclear reactors, which are used to start and control a nuclear chain reaction. For some strange reason, the 50s brought about the idea of including a nuclear reactor to an airplane, a concept that was prematurely doomed. The Convair NB-36 was a crisis waiting to happen each time it took off. The United States had all the intentions of testing the operati0n of a nuclear reactor while in the air, but this plane was so dangerous that it only flew forty-seven times and needed the support of an entire team during each journey.
PZL M-15 Belphegor
The PZL M-15 Belphegor was among the most useless items designed during the Soviet era. Designed in Poland, it was meant to be used as a crop duster with which to spray Soviet farms. It is the only mass-produced biplane in history, which is telling enough as it is. But looking back on it now, it is clear that these jets were more costly to run than the planes they were meant to replace. It clearly wasn’t a good idea to design a crop duster equipped with jet power to begin with.
The Wright Brothers were famous for having managed to create the first air-borne machine. According to the Smithsonian Institution, the Wright Flyer was “the first powered, heavier-than-air machine to achieve controlled, sustained flight with a pilot aboard.” This was all fine and well, but there was no mention of the fact that airtime lasted a maximum of 59 seconds at most. The plane was also incredibly difficult to manage and only could hover at 852 feet. The Wright Flyer flew four whole times in December 1903, but would never retake flight.
Defense systems across the world were clear as to how much of an advantage it would be to have a fighter plane that had a vertical takeoff and landing. The Soviet Union came up with the Yakovlev Yak-38 in inspiration of the Harrier Jump Jet that was used by the British Navy. Much like many Soviet creations, it was of poor quality in that it could only fly 800 miles at a time, and that was without weapons. Another snafu was that it could only fly for fifteen minutes at a time in hot weather. This plane was an all-around fail.
Lockheed Martin VH-71 Kestrel
This helicopter is one of the best to have ever made it onto the market. But the reasons why it is no longer manufactured is quite reasonable: the price tag. The Lockheed Martin VH-71 Kestrel is an excellent machine that was developed by AgustaWestland and Lockheed Martin back in 2002. The Marine Corps awarded this chopper to become a new fleet of helicopters in 2005, but in four years the cost of this project jumped from $6.1 billion to $11.2 billion. These prices have once been blamed on improper lobby ties and additional requests.
When Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in a Bell X-1 in 1947, everyone wanted to follow suit. Other airforces were interested in having a fast research plane, but as it turned out, the British Bristol 188 ended up being extremely problematic. First of all, the fuel tank was so badly designed that it actually leaked while the plane was flying. Additionally, not being able to take off until you reach three hundred miles per hour was a huge problem. To add to insult, this plane was meant to reach Mach 2.6 but struggled to even reach Mach 2.
Samuel Pierpont Langley was a man known for his brilliant invention in science. He was also the secretary of the Smithsonian and was fascinated by aircrafts. This passion led him to create a great model aircraft that managed to fly an entire mile in 1901. Langley then decided to establish the first manned power flight. In theory, the Aerodrome was on point. It had a 52hp radial, the best power-to-weight ratio of all the engines in the world. There was just one major hiccup: it couldn’t fly. Instead, it flew off its catapult and fell into the Potomac River.
McDonnell XF-85 Goblin
The main concept for the McDonnell XF-85 Goblin was that it was a parasite fighter. The Goblin was created to be attached to a larger bomber during takeoff, then mid-flight the parasite would be released to counter other places. The idea is great in theory, but the Goblin would get taken over by other opponents. These struggles were partially due to the .50 machine guns it used.
Lockheed XFV-1 Salmon
The 1950s were a great time to be part of the United States military. Because the budget was quite large, many strange concepts that people came up with came to fruition. One such invention was the Lockheed XFV-1 Salmon, where the inventors were convinced that they would make take off like a rocket. This is a great idea for a point defense interceptor, but it meant that pilots would have to land vertically but backward.
The United States Air Force used a Grumman X029A in the 80s and 90s. This special plane at a forward-swept wing in fighter jet research. In theory, this wing configuration would help the plane better handle subsonic speeds, but the issue was that it was completely unstable. In fact, a digital computer had to be kept onboard which corrected the flight path forty times per second.
In 1961, East Germany released its first and only airplane. The Baade 152 was the first German-designed plane that was based on a variety of bomber concepts. It had several interesting features like outrigger wheels in a high wing that are great for bombers, but not for airliners. The second prototype of the plane crashed, causing the entire crew to pass away. It turned out that the fuel lines stopped during a decent. This caused the engines to quit.
In the 70s, the United States aviation industry created its first plane that couldn’t fly. The plane itself looked fancy and used a curious system, called the thurst augmentor wing, which was meant to allow the engine vertical flight. There was just one serious issue: the plane could only lift three-quarters of its body off the ground, and so this futuristic plane never flew.
The Tupolev Tu-144, along with the Concorde, was one of two superfast airliners. Both planes came out in the late 70s, but their similarities end there. The Concorde was developed as an icon, while the Tupolev was beyond dangerous. The famous crash that happened during the Paris Air show occurred because twenty-two of twenty-four central systems failed mid-flight.
Dassault Balzac V
There are some ideas that look terrific in theory but end up being dreadful in real life. The Dassault Balzac V, inspired by the very successful Mirage III fighters, was one of those concepts. The French wanted to create their own version of a fighter jet that could land and take off vertically, but the Dassault was a miserable failure. During testing, two pilots passed on, and the prototype crashed.
De Havilland Comet
As the first jet-powered airliner, the De Havilland Comet was revolutionary in its own right, but the good things about this aircraft were certainly outweighed by the bad. Some prime examples of these things are that the plane overshot runways and decompressed mid-air. The dangerous aircraft was redesigned and updated many times, but the number of fatal accidents tampered with its reputation.
“The Devil’s Hoverbike”
Speaking of the kooky ideas of the 1950s United States Army, there was thought of having infantry soldiers hover into battle on one person helicopters. A terrifying addition to this little aircraft is that the rotary blades are a mere four inches under the feet, just waiting for the rider to slip. The platform itself required some serious balancing skills which were quite the distraction to the brave soldiers.
True story: the Christmas Bullet is the worst aircraft ever built. It was designed by a psychopath named Dr. William Whitney Christmas, who was assisted by Vincent J. Bernelli. The plane was able to take off, so pilot Cuthbert Mills took it for its first ride. But as soon as he reached a high enough altitude, the wings folded and the plane crashed, causing Mills’ demise.
Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet
The Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet was specially designed to shoot down enemy aircrafts raiding Germany. The Komet was quite fast as it was able to reach speeds a hundred miles per hour faster than any other plane in the Allied fleet, but the plane could only carry enough fuel to last for three minutes. As a result, the aircraft had to land after each mission, and the fuel leakage caused frequent fires and explosi0ns.
Ca 60 Noviplano
The Italian plane designer Caproni built the ornate Ca 60 Noviplano during the 1920s. The ambitious aircraft was built to carry a hundred passengers across the Atlantic, but the plane only flew twice, and that was just within the country. The plane had nine wings in total and eight engines, making for quite the bulky design. It was unable to travel beyond the sixty above Lake Maggiori.
The Blackburn “Roc” was designed to be a defense fighting plane to protect other aircrafts. It was outfitted with a four-machine-gun turret set right behind the pilot. As a result, this plane was quite heavy and therefore too slow to do what it was built for in the first place. The Roc was such an embarrassment to design that the Royal Navy wouldn’t let it fly from its carriers.
The Botha is Blackburn’s second design bomb of the 30s and 40s. This duel-engined torpedo bomber and reconnaissance aircraft had some particularly nasty flaws. Firstly, the view from the crew’s area was catastrophic to the point that the plane couldn’t be used for recon at all. Also, the plane required four crew members to operate, which meant that it was heavy enough to make it useless when it came to firing torpedo.
Embraer EMB-120 Brasilia
As unusual as it may seem based on its strange appearance, the Embraer EMB-120 Brasilia remains very much operational as a commuter plane even though its reputation has gone to the dogs. One of the twin turbo-prop planes was destroyed in flight in 1991, which caused all fourteen people aboard to pass away. Though it is one of the worst passenger planes in history, Ameriflights airlines still uses ten as freighters.
The B.E.9 was built during World War I by the British Royal Flying Corps as an experimental reconnaissance aircraft. It modified previous models by upping the field of fire for the observer. There was a but one serious issue with this idea: having such a good field of vision left the pilot at risk of being cut in half by the propeller blades or even crushed by the engine during a potential crash.
When the Fairey Aviation built the Albacore as a replacement for its previous model, the Swordfish, it was clear that this new plane was poorly designed. In fact, pilots were insistent on flying an older model instead of this fancy new one. It is unclear as to exactly why this was, but the pilots disliked flying it so much that is was retired from service earlier than the Swordfish.
The MiG-23 was a well-known Soviet fighter aircraft that had a look-down/shoot-down’ radar. This model was meant to replace the 21, but because the pilot of the 23 had to sit in a tiny cockpit with terrible vision, the MiG-21 became more popular than its replacement. Once the Cold War was over, MiG-23 were retired but kept their MiG-21s. That being said, a few MiG-23s are in use today.
If the reputation of the Yakovlev wasn’t bad enough, ex-passenger Sir Halffast shared his experience in an article in Jalopnik. “I had the misfortune of flying in one on a domestic Ukrainian flight from Kyiv to Donetsk, and was amazed. For one, the top of the entry door is chest high on a 6’0″ man. And of course, it has the horrible Soviet seats that fold flat forward with little provocation. And the rear stairway that rattles in flight as if it’s about to pop open at any moment.”
Ilyushin Il-62 was another plane whose reputation was destroyed by the Jalopnik discussion about readers’ negative experiences on poorly designed aircrafts. A pilot anonymously wrote about his experience flying this Soviet-era passenger jet. “It still uses manual flight controls, no power assist to move those flight control surfaces,” he explained. “If some ice gets in a hinge, it’s just your muscles that will break it loose. It also has a history of failed thrust reversers and exploding engines that damage neighboring engines.”
The Brewster Buffalo was used by quite a few different sources. An American invention, it was also used by the Finnish, British and Australian Air Forces. This airplane was heavily used at the beginning of World War II but was already obsolete by the end of the conflict. The thing is, the Buffalo was hugely overweight, unpredictable, and tough to maneuver. It was also quite weak in the landing gear, which made for difficult carrier landings.
Tupolev TU- 144
The Tupolev TU- 144 is quite the futuristic-looking jet. One of two supersonic transport aircrafts to ever enter commercial service, it was able to reach speeds of 1,200 miles per hour. But unlike the Concorde that was famous for its success, the Tupolev had a lousy rep from both the front and the back end. The plane was not only incredibly noisy but it was tended to fail in the fuel tank valve.
Jalopnik contributor Alex Murel suggested that people avoid the ATR 72 as much as possible. “It’s massively outdated, and the existing fleet is really starting to fall apart, I understand that turboprops can be more cost-efficient for some flights, but these are old and feel like they’re shaking the plane apart. 11 of the 508 built have been destroyed in crashes that resulted in the deaths of over 190 people.”
Due to a shortage of metal during World War II, the Heinkel He-162 was supposed to be made of wood. The aerodynamic plane was created quite quickly, with only ninety days between the first drawings and production. The main idea behind these devices was that they could be piloted by teenagers with the most basic of flight training, but the main issue was that the glue which held the plane together corroded the plane’s airframe.
The Fairey Battle was designed to be a promising aircraft because it was powered with a Rolls-Royce Merlin piston engine. But instead, the plane was slow, heavy, and had a fairly limited range. When nearly a hundred were conquered in a single week, the Royal Air Force pulled the Fairey from service by the end of 1940. It is considered to be the most anti-climactic aircrafts in the RAF’s history.
Douglas TBD Devastator
The vintage Douglas TBD Devastator was seriously problematic. It could only release its torpedo provided that it flew in a straight line at the snail’s pace of 115 miles per hour. The United States Navy suffered a terrible loss because of these planes because during the Battle of Midway, the Devastator fleet was nearly completely destroyed.
The LWS-6 Żubr was produced prior to World War II and was created by the Polish Air Force. However, the craft never actually made it in the air and was only used for training. A few were actually destroyed on the ground during moments of conflict. The Żubr was quite faulty and featured an undercarriage that retracted on some landings. The Soviets managed to capture four of them during their invasion of Poland.
The Saab 340 is a Swedish-made twin-engine turboprop commercial aircraft and is considered by many to be the loudest commercial planes. BuckeyeFanFlyer took to FlyerTalk to share this experience. “I flew the Saab-340 last week for the first time…I could not believe the loud noise of the engine, yes I was sitting right next [to] it. Might think about having earplugs available.”
Twelve years ago, the Times published a long list of issues that the passenger plane McDonnell Douglas MD-80 had had over the years. The list included many crashes that took the lives of several people. The MD-80 is also inefficient, cramped, and slow, though for reasons unknown it is still used by Delta and American Airlines.
Bombardier Dash 8
Jalopnik user Crossdrilled wrote about the Bombardier Dash 8. “They use these to get across the smaller islands with small landing strips. I can deal with the loud propeller noise and the tossing and turning by crosswinds, but what gets me the most is the fact that these planes cannot hold the luggage of every passenger on board for weight reasons.”
Stipa-Caproni “The Flying Barrel”
You can see how this experimental Italian aircraft got its name. It was first flown in 1932, becoming the world’s first ducted fan aircraft. It was very stable, but its relatively large fuselage created a lot of additional drag. And no, it was not full of beer.