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The World's Worst Planes: Aircraft Designs That Failed 209

Posted by samzenpus
from the what-goes-up-must-come-down dept.
dryriver (1010635) writes in with an interesting look at some aircraft that should have stayed on the ground. "It's more than 110 years since mankind first took to the air in a powered aircraft. During that time, certain designs have become lauded for their far-sighted strengths – the Supermarine Spitfire; Douglas DC-3 Dakota; or the Anglo-French Concorde supersonic airliner, to name a few. But then there are planes like the Christmas Bullet. Designed by Dr William Whitney Christmas, who was described by one aviation historian as the 'greatest charlatan to ever see his name associated with an airplane', this 'revolutionary' prototype biplane fighter had no struts supporting the wings; instead, they were supposed to flap like a bird's. Both prototypes were destroyed during their first flights – basically, because Christmas's 'breakthrough' design was so incapable of flight that the wings would twist off the airframe at the first opportunity. Just as many of the world's most enduring designs share certain characteristics, the history of aviation is littered with disappointing designs."
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The World's Worst Planes: Aircraft Designs That Failed

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  • Does not matter (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sabri (584428) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @06:27PM (#47071157)
    Successful people are those who fail and don't give up. The same is true for aeronautical design. If you don't fail a couple of times, you won't win either.
  • Damn BBC (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kooky45 (785515) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @06:40PM (#47071209)
    Anyone like to repost the content for us poor UK residents who aren't allowed to see the BBC's own content!?
  • by awrc (12953) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @07:11PM (#47071381)

    At least most of these actually got off of the ground and some really don't belong in a list of bad aircraft - the example of the Comet has already been raised, the MiG-23 wasn't a bad plane by any means - unforgiving of inexperienced pilots, but so was the F-104 and *that* one gets included in a lot of "best planes ever" lists. Total production of the MiG-23 family is over 5,000 - bad planes don't get built in that sort of numbers.

    Throw in planes that were pretty adequate in their time but verging on obsolete when they had their 15 minutes (the Devastator), those that weren't actually bad but had the misfortune of being the successor to something so successful it wouldn't go away (the Albacore). It's difficult to call the Me 163 a bad plane - it was a desperate measure that made it very dangerous, but it's a very significant type. The He 162? Another desperation measure, but one of the more trusted opinions on the merits of aircraft (Eric "Winkle' Brown) found it a downright joy to fly, although again it was (again) unforgiving of inexperienced pilots, which perhaps wasn't the best quality for something intended to be flown by pilots with minimal training.

    Besides, there are so many things that can ruin otherwise good designs - how many 50s US jets are considered jokes because the DoD decided they were to be powered by the Westinghouse J-40? Not bad planes, but a bad engine. Some planes that escaped from the J-40 and had alternate power plants suggested (F4D, for example) ended up being considered classics.

  • Re:Does not matter (Score:2, Insightful)

    by flyingsquid (813711) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @07:11PM (#47071383)
    How in the hell can you write an article called "The World's Worst Planes" and not include the massively over-budget and behind-schedule F-35 Lightning II?
  • Re:Does not matter (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Psychopath (18031) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @07:16PM (#47071409) Homepage

    One of my FAVE failures:
    McDonnell XF-85 Goblin [wikipedia.org]

    What WERE they thinking?

    They were thinking that many bombers were getting shot down after their shorter-range fighter escorts had to peel off and head home. It wasn't clear at the time that mid-air refueling could work.

  • by bkmoore (1910118) on Friday May 23, 2014 @01:19AM (#47072497)

    The article calls a lot of sound aircraft designs failures because they were employed improperly (wrong tactics) or the weapons they were designed to carry weren't ready by the time the war started. An example, the TBD-1 losses at Midway were the result of attacking Japanese battle ships without fighter escorts and by the outdated torpedoes that couldn't be dropped at high speed without breaking up when hitting the water. The Grumman TBF-1 Avenger was "successful" because by the time it entered service, more modern torpedoes were available and military planners knew that torpedo bombers needed fighter escort.

    The parallel in Europe is in 1939, both the British and the Germans tried sending daylight bombers without fighter escort into battle. Every time, they suffered unacceptable losses. The point is in 1939 to 1940, aerial warfare was so new that most military planners did not know how to properly employ their air forces, or what the capabilities and limitations of their aircraft were. At the time, Bomber Generals saw fighter production as competition for resources, i.e. aircraft. The Bomber people at the time believed Stanley Baldwin's quote from 1932, "the bomber will always get through."

  • Re:Does not matter (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TangoMargarine (1617195) on Friday May 23, 2014 @11:12AM (#47075007) Journal

    I didn't really see how they could put *half* the planes in that article under "worst ever."

    The Albacore was almost as good as its predecessor, implying that it was an entirely decent plane, just that the project itself not serving as a replacement was rather pointless.

    The He-162 had manufacturing defects and an insane pilot training program but would otherwise have been fine.

    They never even mentioned what was "wrong" with the Me-163. Granted, it was a crazy aircraft, but it more or less worked for the purposes they intended it for. It was vulnerable to "bouncing" on landing, but the same problem applied to the Me-262, which did quite well. Hell, the 163 was one of the *successful* insane plane ideas Germany had, and they had a LOT of them.

    According to Wikipedia, the Devastator, "ordered in 1934, it first flew in 1935 and entered service in 1937. At that point, it was the most advanced aircraft flying for the USN and possibly for any navy in the world. However, the fast pace of aircraft development quickly caught up with it, and by the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the TBD was already outdated." So not a failure at all by design, or even its initial deployment, apparently.

    A lot of these fall under the "hindsight is 20-20" rule, too.

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