Anyone with an interest in history knows of the Wright Brothers. After all, they are the most popular aircraft designers ever! However, they failed many times before they got it right. This is not all that unusual as many others have tried and failed in their quest to make new designs for choppers and planes. During the ‘50s and ‘60s, people tried to innovate the industry but failed disastrously at it. Let us take a look at some of the most epic failures the field of aviation has ever seen.
The Fisher P-75 Eagle
This aircraft was touted to be a huge success. It was meant to symbolize victory and the number “75” even came from the Great War weapon known as the French 75-mm gun. The “eagle” in its name, meanwhile, was supposed to represent American glory. It was like a Frankenstein of interceptors since it combined various parts from other aircraft. Sadly, it was a huge letdown as it did not have the horsepower it needed, which made it perform underwhelmingly.
The Douglas DC-10
This must be one of the most poorly-designed jets in history. The plane had about 55 accidents, which led to numerous fatalities. The greatest flaw of this plane must lie in the fact that the cargo doors did not open inward but outward. The so-called innovation made the cargo door impossible to close properly before one flight in 1972. It even opened mid-flight! Something similar happened in 1974, and an engine fell off its wing during takeoff in 1979. It is a good thing that there were lots of changes and adaptations made to make it safer.
The Bell FM-1 Airacuda
The Airacuda was launched in 1937 and boasted of a futuristic look and unconventional but innovative features. An improvement it had was the placement of engines and guns, which made it easier to fire weapons. Sadly, it overheated frequently and made it impossible for a gunner to bail out because of its rear propellers. What makes it even worse is that firing guns inside of it would fill the space with smoke.
The Vought F7U Cutlass
The Cutlass had a very interesting design. The plane did not come with the traditional tail and featured a swept-wing design. However, the aircraft boasted of many problems too. While the plane was fast, it sometimes struggled to remain in the air. The jet did not have enough thrust for landings and take-offs either. It is interesting to hear that around a quarter of the units got into crashes.
The Convair NB-36
A nuclear reactor is a device used to begin a nuclear chain reaction. For this reason, it should only ever be used at nuclear power plants. In the ‘50s, someone thought that it would be a good idea to add it to an aircraft. It resulted in the Convair NB-36, a disaster in the making from the get-go. The plane was so dangerous that a team of support aircraft always followed it after takeoff. It was only flown 47 times.
The PZL M-15 Belphegor
Designed in Poland, the PZL M-15 Belphegor was the sole mass-produced biplane in history. Made to be a crop duster, the design for it was created in 1972. In retrospect, they must have realized that it was not a good idea to make one with jet power. It was more expensive to run them than they intended.
The Wright Flyer
Here is how the Smithsonian Institution describes the Wright Flyer: “the first powered, heavier-than-air machine to achieve controlled, sustained flight with a pilot aboard.” They did not mention that it could not last over 59 seconds mid-air. On top of that, it was hard to manage and covered only 852 feet. The aircraft only ever flew four times on the 17th of December 1903. Pilots just gave up on it after that.
The Harrier Jump Jet
Across the globe, many realized just how useful the vertical take-off and landing fighter of the British Navy were. Taking inspiration from them, the Soviet Union made a Yakovlev Yak-38. The difference was that it did not work well and could only fly for 15 minutes when it was hot out. In optimal weather conditions, the aircraft only managed to fly 800 miles or so without weapons.
The Lockheed Martin VH-71
From the aeronautical point of view, this was designed well. Augusta Westland and Lockheed Martin developed and marketed it in the U.S. in 2002. It was so impressive that the Marine Carps opted to use it for Presidential transport in 2005. However, the contract for it went from $6.1 billion to $11.2 billion four years after that. The asking price was simply too much.
The Bristol 188
Regardless of the industry, it is always important to at least level with your competitors. Chuck Yeager managed to break the sound barrier with the Bell X-1 in 1947, which led other air faces to work on research planes of their own. The British made the Bristol 188, but the fuel tank always leaked when the plane was midflight. On top of that, the plane could not take off until it reached 300 mph.
Samuel Pierpont Langley was a brilliant scientist and inventor who once worked as the Smithsonian secretary. In 1901, he created a design for an aircraft that flew over a mile. He then took it up a notch and created the first manned power flight. It was going well, the Aerodrome even had 52 hp radial and a good power-to-weight ration. Sadly, it flew off the catapult and ended up in the Potomac River twice.
The McDonnell XF-85 Goblin
This aircraft was made to be a parasite fighter. It means that it would have been attached to a bigger bomber at takeoff and released mid-flight to fight off other jets. It might sound like a good idea, but it was not like this in real life. It got overpowered by enemy planes thanks to its .50-cal machine guns!
The Lockheed XFV-1 Salmon
The U.S. military had plenty of bizarre ideas in the ‘50s. Thanks to the high budget, the military turned a few ideas into realities. This aircraft was made to take off vertically, which would be great for a point defense interceptor. However, it meant that one had to land vertically and awkward. The engines also tore itself into bits!
The Grumman X-29
In the ‘80s and ‘90s, the U.S. Air Force had the Grumman X-29A. It was an aircraft that had a forward-swept wing that was meant to help give it better performance at subsonic speeds. The wings made it aerodynamically unstable, however. It was developed by the Air Force, NASA, Grumman, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Someone from NASA said, “It was unflyable — literally — without a digital flight computer onboard, which made corrections to the flight path 40 times a second.”
The Baade 152
The Germans made this airliner with the use of bomber concepts. It had outrigger wheels and a high-wing, which are great features for bombers but not for airliners. The prototype crashed after two flights and killed an entire crew. Engineers eventually saw that the fuel lines did not work during the descent and caused the engines to fail. It ended in 1961 and remains the only airliner created in East Germany.
The Rockwell XFV-12
We bet it was hard to design the first airplanes. By the ‘70s, one would think that the wealthiest aviation company would not mess up big time. However, it surprised everyone with the creation of the Rockwell XFV-12. It looked fancy with a pointed front and unique wing style. It also used “thrust augmenter wing”, which was meant to be used for vertical flight. It never took off and fly, unfortunately.
The Tupolev Tu-144
Like the Concorde, the Tupolev Tu-144 was also a supersonic airliner designed in the late ‘70s. Sadly, its first passenger prototype crashed during the Paris Air show because 22 of its 24 central systems failed and made it crash. Two airframes used were failures as well. It was flown 55 times and then abandoned.
The Dassault Balzac V
There are many ideas that look great on paper but are actually terrible ideas. That was what happened with this one. The French hoped to make a fighter jet able to take off and land vertically. It drew inspiration from the Mirage III. During its testing phase, a pair of pilots died. It did not stop the French from working on a prototype, but it only crashed. It’s a good thing the pilot ejected himself to safety!
De Havilland Comet
There are a lot of good things to say about the De Havilland Comet. Sadly, the negatives look like they outweigh the positives. It became the poster child for poorly-designed aircraft. The engineers reworked and updated it a lot, but they just could not prevent any of the fatal accidents from happening.
The Devil’s Hoverbike
Hoverboards are popular now, but you should know that they were inspired by an aircraft the U.S. Army made in the ‘50s. The military came up with the idea to hover the infantry into battle and designed a one-man chopper. The scariest part about it was that the powerful rotor blades were found four inches below your feet. Pilots needed to balance on a tiny platform with this below them!
The Christmas Bullet
This aircraft was made by Dr. William Whitney Christmas, a psychopath. He created it to ensure that the pilot will die upon reaching a specific height. He asked a pilot called Cuthbert Mills to give it a try. What made it even worse was that Mills asked his mom to come see the test flight. During takeoff, the wings folded and the aircraft crashed. As you can imagine, the pilot did not survive this.
The Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet
What an intimidating aircraft! The Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet is a rocket-powered interceptor made to shoot down enemy planes. It was so fast that it could go from zero to 100 mph faster than other Allied planes. Sadly, it only had the fuel capacity to fly for 3 minutes. It kept having to land to refuel afterward. The landings were difficult, fuel leaks were evident, fires often happened, and pilots died.
Italian plane-maker Caproni built the Noviplano in the ‘20s. It was meant to bring 100 people across the Atlantic. Sadly, it only flew twice and did not even make it out of the country. Not only did it have a poor performance, but it was also ugly. It came with eight engines and nine wings, which was a terrible idea.
The Blackburn Roc
This was meant to be a fighter plane that protected others from enemy aircraft. It had a four-machine-gun turret placed right behind the pilot. It was too slow and heavy, however. In the end, its design was so bad that the Royal Navy did not let it fly from its carriers. It only shot down one plane in WWII.
The Blackburn Botha
The ‘30s and ‘40s had been a pretty bad time for Blackburn when it comes to designs. The Botha is the second poorly designed aircraft by the company. This is a two-engine torpedo bomber reconnaissance aircraft. It had a number of flaws like the fact that the crew compartment view was so bad it could not be used for recon. It was also underpowered and called for a fourth crew member. Doing so meant increasing the weight of the plane, which then meant it would be unable to fire torpedoes. Lastly, it was hard to fly the plane and therefore suffered a number of fatal accidents.
The Embraer EMB-120 Brasilia
The Embraer EMB-120 Brasilia is a commuter plane with an odd look. There were lots of incidents with the model like how the turbo-prop planes broke up mid-flight and killed the 14 people aboard. This aircraft has a lot of problems and has even been dubbed among the worst passenger planes in history. Even so, Ameriflight Airlines continues to use the planes as freighters!
During the Great War, the British Royal Flying Corps made the B.E.9., an experimental plane. What made it so different from older models would be the expanded field of fire for the machine gun. Sadly, the feature backfired because it left the gunner in a vulnerable position. The propeller blades might cut the pilot in half and the engine could crush a person in an accident. An RAF defenses commander said it was “an extremely dangerous machine from the passenger’s point of view.”
The Fairey Albacore
Clearly, there is something wrong with the plane if a pilot wants to fly an older model instead of the new one. Fairey Aviation launched the Albacore as a replacement for the Swordfish. Constructed between 1939 and 1943, it was meant to be used by the British Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm. Pilots hated flying the single-engine biplane torpedo bomber so much that it got retired earlier than its predecessor.
The Mikoyan-Gurevich-23 was a Soviet fighter aircraft. It was the first plane they had that came with a “look-down/shoot-down” radar. Like the other planes on the list, its earlier model was more popular. After all, the pilot needed to sit in a cramped cockpit and had limited vision in the MiG-23. After the Cold War, air forces kept their MiG-21s but let go of their MiG-23s. A number of the latter is still in use today.
Sir Halffast talked about his experience with the Yak-42 in one Jalopnik article. He said that its design was so bad that it was terrible that it was still in use in 2013: “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.”
The Ilyushin Il-62
A pilot using the username “For Sweden” also talked about what it was like to fly this Soviet-era passenger jet: “It still uses manual flight controls, no power assist to move those flight control surfaces,” he said. “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
This was the first monoplane fighter plane in the U.S. Navy. The Finnish and Royal Australian Air Forces used the plane as well. It was popular at the start of WWII but became outdated by the end of the war. It was heavy and unpredictable, which made it hard to maneuver. It was just no match for Japanese planes since it collapsed frequently and had very weak landing gear. It has been called “a flying coffin.”
The Tupolev TU-144
The Russians made this futuristic supersonic transport aircraft. It was the only one, aside from the Concorde, to go into commercial service. It can go 1,200 mph but has seen a lot of failures in the past. People avoided it as much as possible because it was unreliable and failed to perform many times. It also made so much noise that people seated beside each other needed to pass notes to each other to communicate. The final flight happened in 1978 and suffered a fuel tank valve failure.
The ATR 72
Alex Murel told people to avoid flying the ATR 72s before American Eagle retired a fleet of it. “Its massively outdated, and the existing fleet is really starting to fall apart,” he said. “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.”
The Heinkel He-162
This was one of the fastest planes to be designed and made. It only took 90 days to complete the design and production of this plane. Built-in wartime with a shortage of materials, it was constructed out of wood. On top of that, the planes were flown by teen pilots. It required careful handling, but the glue that held it together corroded the airframe. It was in use only from January to May 1945.
The Fairey Battle
Developed specifically for the Royal Air Force in the mid-‘30s, it had a Rolls-Royce Merlin piston engine and a lot of promise. Sadly, it was slow, heavy, and limited. In just a single week, around a hundred planes got shot down. It was withdrawn by the RAF at the end of 1940.
The Douglas TBD Devastator
The planes on this list are all seriously flawed, but the issue for this one was deadly. The only way it could release a torpedo was while flying in a straight line at 115 mph. It was a sitting duck for enemy planes. The fleet suffered many losses in the Battle of Midway. They launched 41 units and lost all but 6.
The LWS-6 Żubr
It is not wise to judge a book by the cover, but this was not only ugly but failed to make it to combat too. Produced right before WWII, it was mostly used for training. The LWS-6 Żubr had lots of problems that included an undercarriage that retracted upon landings. Four of these were captured by the Soviets during the invasion of Poland.
The Saab 340
The Swedish tried to make a twin-engine turboprop commercial aircraft. The result of a collaboration between Saab AB and Fairchild Aircraft in 1983. The plane continues to be in service. It is thought to be one of the noisiest commercial planes in history. BuckeyeFanFlyer told FlyerTalk, “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.”
The MD-80 is one of the few planes to get published in the New York Times. The paper listed its issues over the years. It was involved in many fatal crashes. It was also slow, inefficient, and cramped. It is shocking to hear that this plane is still used by American Airlines and Delta Air Lines!
The Bombardier Dash 8
Cross-drilled, another user on Jalopnik, described the plane in detail: “They use these to get across the smaller islands with small landing strips,” he said before discussing the errors of the plane. “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. Ideally, the solution is to tell persons to carry less luggage but most persons taking these smaller planes are transferring from a 757 or other planes.”
This aircraft was used toward the end of WWII, and it was one of the experimental planes used by the Germans. It could travel faster than any other fighter plane being used during World War II, but it had some debilitating qualities that kept it from ever really succeeding. Once pilots were in the air, the plane could hold only enough fuel to safely keep the pilots afloat for about three minutes. After the three minutes, they’d need to slowly and carefully glide back to base. This meant they were an open and easy target for anyone to shoot at them.
The Hindenburg is considered one of the worst aircraft designs of all time. It’s known infamously for the fact that it caught on fire and crashed brutally in 1936 while trying to land in New Jersey. It was later discovered that the plane crashed due to an electrostatic discharge that set the hydrogen gas on fire.
The British B.E.-2
The BE-2 wasn’t given much of a fighting chance to succeed, as there were many huge flaws discovered right from the start. The plane had a difficult time maneuvering quickly, a struggling engine, and a blocked pilot’s view due to the gunner being in the front. During World War I, German Pilots shot down these planes with ease, which made the planes useless in war.
Caproni Ca 60 Noviplano
The Caproni Ca 60 Noviplano was designed in the 1920s, and believe it or not, this airplane was equipped with nine wings! It may be the ugliest airplane design of all time, but that’s not what makes it such a bad plane. The plane–intended to carry 100 passengers and eight engines spread amongst its nine wings–only had one test flight, where it only reached an altitude of 60 feet. It quickly crashed and landed in water. Luckily, the pilot survived, but the plane was destroyed.
Tupolev TU- 144
Though the Tupolev TU-144 started out strong as the only commercial plane to be able to exceed Mach 2 (approx. 1534 MPH), it quickly declined as being such a hot commodity when it became cursed with horrible luck in a bad turn of events. During the Paris Air Show in 1973, the plane experienced a horrible mid-air breakup. Shortly after this in 1985 it was discontinued, but briefly brought back as a research plane a couple of years after this.
The Starship was expected to be a high-functioning groundbreaking aircraft, but it missed the mark. It had a carbon-composite construction and turboprop engines, which made engineers believe it would run perfectly, but it was very slow and difficult to fly and cost an arm and a leg to maintain. 53 of these planes were built and ready to fly in 1989, but only a few were actually sold.
The Hiller VZ-1
This aircraft must have been quite impressive on paper because it was anything other than impressive to actually fly. There were no gears- the idea of the plane was that the pilot should steer the aircraft by shifting his body weight. Everyone loved it until they actually saw it in flight. It only traveled up to 16 MPH and steering was much more complicated than they anticipated it to be.
The Flying Dorito
The Flying Dorito was one of the worst projects that the Pentagon agreed to fund in the 1980s. It experienced issues in many fields, including radar systems and its use of composite materials. In 1991 when the Department of Defense found out that each plane was projected to cost $165 million, Dick Cheney canceled the project.
Until the Spruce Goose was created, the XB 15 was the largest plane to ever be built in the United States. This plane was so large that it was able to hold secret passageways and sleeping bunks for the crew on-board. Unfortunately, in 1937 nobody was creating engines large enough to support this plane yet, so the plane was unable to travel faster than 200 MPH. This wasn’t worth it as an army plane, so the U.S. Army killed the project. Only one XB was ever built, and it was used as a cargo plane during WWII.
Rolls Royce Thrust Measuring Rig
This aircraft, better known by the name of “Flying Bedstead” was obscenely dangerous, which you can see by simply laying eyes on it. The plane was nothing more than two jet engines attached to a frame. There were no control surfaces, wings, or any stability at all, really. It was simply fuel tanks and engines, with a pilot placed right on top. Not surprisingly, this plane was not reliable, and in order to maneuver the plane, the pilot would have to know his next move well in advance in order to make it happen. A testing pilot was crushed by this plane, and after that Rolls Royce canceled their testing.
Everyone jokes about there being a flying car, but in 1949, that dream almost became a reality. Six “roadable aircraft” plane cars were built, but when they all failed to pass automobile safety regulation tests, it became less of a realistic idea. Cars have some non-negotiable requirements, like bumpers, and these plane cars were lacking what was needed.
Antonov A-40 Flying Tank
Originally, this plane was designed to supply troops with tanks and was designed with the capability to attach a glider towed by a Russian TB-3 bomber. Unfortunately, it only lasted one test before the plane overheated due to the weight and drag everything brought along with it. After the tank failed its mission, it was driven on the ground back to base.
In 1928 American pilot and inventor Leonard Bonney decided that he wanted to test out a new kind of airplane wing. Fixed-wing aviation had been running successfully for quite some time now, so he decided to test a sort of bird wing replication. The wings on the plane did not flap like a bird’s, but they were curved like a gull’s wings. It lasted only one flight and crashed right after takeoff.
Goodyear had contracts with the military in which they built planes. One of the planes they built was made for the U.S. Army, and it was called the Inflatoplane. This wasn’t just a fun name, but the plane really was inflatable! The whole plane could be packed into a 44 cubic foot container while deflated, and it could completely inflate within five minutes. It successfully flew, but after thinking about how fragile the plane was and how easy it would be to shoot it down, the project was canceled in 1956.
This plane was designed by the Royal Navy’s Air Department, and it just made no sense. The high-mounted pilot-and-gun pod made the plane virtually impossible to be stable or safe. In-flight, the plane maneuvered itself like a clumsy child trying to ride a bike. Four planes were built, but they didn’t get much use.
With this plane came a lot of troubles and drama. Though the idea for this plane was thought up in 1883, the plane wasn’t built and flown until years later, and that idea seemed to have been a replica of the original. Glenn Curtiss was being sued by the Wright Brothers, who were claiming they patented the idea of three-axis control, a feature that this plane held. Unfortunately, even though Glenn Curtiss’ plane flew successfully and he proved the Wright Brothers wrong, the government sided with the Wright Brothers for their ideas.
Canadian Vickers Velos
The only award that this plane has and will ever win, is that it is agreed amongst everyone that it was the worst plane ever made in the entire country of Canada. This plane was designed to be a photo-survey plane, but it just didn’t cut it. The plane flew so horribly that nobody even wanted to give it a second chance. It flew for a year before it sank during a November 1928 storm.
Handley Page HP.50 Heyford
There really was nothing great about this plane. It had an open cockpit and a fixed gear. Other planes like it could reach nearly 200 MPH, but the Heyford could barely reach 120 MPH with its most intense effort. Still, it was seen as one of the Royal Air Force’s most important bomber planes in the 1930s. In fact, they used one of these planes until as late as 1944.
Westland-Hill Pterodactyl Mark V
This plane actually wasn’t so bad, that is until they landed and were on the ground. The Pterodactyl had a very high sink rate, which was the cause of an “un-stallable” design. The plane also had no capabilities of offense. The gunner solely had capabilities of firing at other planes, which nobody thought about when designing the plane and marketing it as one with an unimpeded field of fire.
The Soviets had a reputation of building giant airplanes, and this was not an exception. This plane had seven engines and could reach very high altitudes. Unfortunately, the poorly-constructed tail made it hard to keep the engines going. the plane never ended up going anywhere, as the plane was not reliable enough for fighting.