50 Strangest Aircraft Ever Made

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Building a machine to fly effectively is not easy, depending on the goals that a military or company is trying to achieve. Throughout aviation history, people have conducted experiments and tried out different designs when constructing aircraft. As a result of the trial and error nature of aircraft engineering, many come out looking incredibly weird. We find the manufacturing and history behind these oddities fascinating and want to share this info. We have collected some of the wildest planes, jets, and helicopters. A lot of hard work and thinking outside the box have made these possible, even if some were failures. Each has played a role in modern flying and space travel evolution. Everyone and mother will want to see the strangest aircraft ever made.     

McDonnell XF-85 Goblin

United States Air Force

This American experimental jet fighter from 1948 would probably be better classed as a guided cruise missile. Dropped from the bomb bay of a Convair B-36 bomber, the McDonnell XF-85 Goblin’s first generation jet engine was supposed to start in mid-air. And it did so in testing… at least most of the time. The purpose behind this so-called “parasite fighter” was to drastically expand the range of fighter aircraft of the era. However, the concept was abandoned within a year in favor of cheaper mid-air refueling techniques. A system that was also much safer and far more efficient, though not nearly as exciting.

X-36 Tailless Fighter Agility Research Aircraft

NASA Photo / Tony Landis

The McDonnell Douglas X-36 Tailless Fighter Agility Research Aircraft was an American prototype jet designed to fly without a traditional tail assembly. Its first flight was in May 1997. It is now retired. But not before it set records and spurred on further innovation that is currently patrolling the skies today.

Lockheed XFV-1 Tailsitter

U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation

The Lockheed XFV (sometimes referred to as the “Salmon”) was an American experimental tailsitter prototype aircraft built by Lockheed in the early 1950s to demonstrate the operation of a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) fighter for protecting convoys.

The Double Bubble D8

aviationweek.com

MIT’s D8 Series design hopes to be the new standard for passenger liners and transports in the near future. The iconic “double bubble” frame uses a modified tube and wing, which allows for much a wider fuselage than traditional aircraft. The ultra-low sweep wings cut down significantly on drag and weight, as well as generate extra lift. In addition, the engines sit aft of the fuselage and are fully embedded, which enhances the aircraft’s maneuverability considerably.

Vought V-173 “The Flying Pancake”

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

An experimental aircraft built for the U.S. Navy, the Vought V-173 premiered in the mid-1940s. Just in time for the massive WWI push to be over and a flying-saucer-like fighter aircraft to serve little to no use for the American military.

H-4 Hercules 2 “Spruce Goose”

Federal Aviation Administration

A 200-ton monstrosity, the H-4 Hercules 2 was nicknamed the Spruce Goose because of its wooden frame (despite the fact that it was mostly made of birch). The heavy transport aircraft is the largest fixed-winged seaplane ever built and was designed by filmmaker and business magnate Howard Hughes. Only one was ever built; today it sits in a museum in Oregon. 

Edgley Optica

Flickr user Mick

The Edgley EA-7 Optica is a British aircraft made for low-speed observation work. It is intended as an inexpensive alternative to helicopters. Its first flight was in December 1979.

NASA AD-1

nasa.gov

Wind-tunnel experiments and computer models can only take you so far. To really grasp all the variables of a jagged object cutting through the atmosphere at high speed, sometimes you just have to strap up and dive in. That’s where NASA’s AD-1 comes in. This clever plane has a wing that could be readjusted a full 360 degrees horizontally to take flight testing to a whole new level. The tough wing could even pivot up to 60 degrees during flight without suffering major instability. Not too shabby for a plan built in 1979.

Convair F2Y Sea Dart

fiddlersgreen.net

The Convair F2Y Sea Dart was an American seaplane fighter aircraft that takes off and lands using hydro-skis. This aircraft’s first flight was in 1953 and retired in 1957. This plane is the only seaplane to have exceeded the speed of sound.

The Caspian Sea Monster, Korabl Maket

airwar.ru

The Korabl Maket also known in English as the Caspian Sea Monster, was a Soviet experimental aircraft developed by the Central Hydrofoil Design Bureau in the 1960s. Its first flight was in October 1966. It was destroyed in 1980. But not before this wild shot was captured and shared with the world.

Caproni Ca. 60

aviastar.org

The Caproni Ca.60 Transaereo also known as the Noviplano or Capronissimo. It was a prototype of a large 9-wing flying boat. It was originally intended to be a 100 passenger transatlantic airliner. It had featured 8 engines and 3 sets of ripple wings. Its first flight was in 1921, and it was destroyed on its second flight.

British Aerospace Nimrod MRA4

Steve Beech

The British Aerospace Nimrod MRA4 is a planned maritime patrol and attack aircraft intended to replace the Hawker Siddeley Nimrod MR2.To be honest, this aircraft when looked at from alternative angles isn’t actually the shocking. But seeing it from here is downright weird!

We Are Not Sure

Stratolaunch System’s Corp/ The Washington Post

We honestly do not know what this aircraft is supposed to be. We wonder if the person who made this concept ever considered if this jet was supposed to leave the ground or not. We guess the more jet engines, the better.

Mil V-12

aviastar.org

The Mil V-12 is the largest helicopter ever built. Its first flight was an unsuccessful attempt in June 1967. It had a successful flight in July 1968, only to be cancelled.

Lenticular ReEntry Vehicle

University of Wyoming

In the 1950s and early 1960s, the U.S. military and NASA experimented with designs that resembled flying saucers. One of these LRV projects was declassified in 1999. If you saw a flying disc back in the day near one of these bases, it might have been one of these unique aircraft.

PZL M-15 Belphegor

aviationtrivia.info

Here’s the official word, “The PZL M-15 was a jet-powered biplane designed and manufactured by the Polish aircraft company WSK PZL-Mielec for agricultural aviation. In reference to both its strange looks and relatively loud jet engine, the aircraft was nicknamed Belphegor, after the noisy demon.”

RotorWay Javelin Personal Helicopter

motortrend.com

This is a single-seat light helicopter designed in the early 1960s by B.J. Schramm. Schramm began marketing the aircraft before he built it as early as 1958. People dubbed it the RotorWay or Schramm helicopter. Schramm wanted a simple helicopter to fly that had few components making maintenance easy. Though he did not quite get this chopper manufacturer-ready, it was a great learning experience. The Scorpion, RotorWay’s first production helicopter, was quite lucrative when they began to sell it in 1967. As of 2022, the company still makes helicopters.

Kalinin K-7

vintageaircraftgroup.com

The Soviet Union started constructing this aircraft in 1931. They called it the Kalinin K-7. Konstantin Kalinin, a World War I aviator and aircraft designer, came up with the idea. It was one of the largest aircraft ever made at the time, with a length of 91 ft 10 in (28m) and a wingspan of 173 ft 11 in (53 m). It had an engine in the pusher configuration, six tractor engines on the wing leading edge, and underwing pods, twin booms, and machine-gun turrets. The K-7 had seven flights before structural failure resulted in it crashing. The Soviets canceled the project in 1935. 

The Northrop XP-79

aviastar.org

The Northrop XP-79 is a unique aircraft. Designed by John K Northrop in 1942, the aircraft had a pilot operating the plane lying down and used two Westinghouse 19B turbojets. Originally, Northrop had a rocket motor in mind but scrapped it due to poor outcomes. The aircraft also had a monocoque skin rather than aluminum. In 1945, after a tragic event involving a test of the modified XP-79B, the company decided to cancel the project. The event also destroyed the aircraft.

Horten Ho 229

smithsonianmagazine.com

Reimar and Wlater Horten designed the Horten Ho 229. It was a prototype flight/ bomber made for Germany during World War II. The team’s goal was to meet Reichsmarschall Göring’s request to create an aircraft that could carry 1,000 kilograms (2,200 Ib) of bombs at 1,000 kilometers per hour (620 mph). The manufacturer decided to use jet engines to match the speed of the demand. However, the Junkers Jumo 004 engine used a lot of fuel. Still, research progressed throughout the end of the war. Ultimately in 1945, the U.S. military took the V3 prototype and transported it to the U.S. Today, it is the only surviving Horten Ho 299. People can see it at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Dornier Aerodyne

smartage.pl

Ever heard of a ‘unmanned wingless VTOL aircraft’? Well, that’s exactly what the Dornier Aerodyne set out to be. Produced in the late ’60s, it’s first flight was in ’72, as a part of the German army. As I’m sure you can imagine…it was less than useful.

Fully Closed Wing Crop Duster

Evgeny Dovgospiny

Not to much info on this interesting looking aircraft. Using the closed wing design it appears to be custom made but sure caught our attention. If you’ve seen this one before, drop us a line. Until then, we’re just going to assume it is a predecessor to the Dyson fan that moves air without blades. You know the one…

NASA’s GL-10 Greased Lightning

ntrs.nasa.gov

Greased Lightning (GL10) project 10 engine electric prototype remote control plane. Photo taken 8/14/14 by David C. BowmanThat odd-looking aircraft above is just a 50% scale, all-electric test bed for NASA’s groundbreaking GL-10. This diesel-electric tilt-wing helicopter seeks to address the shortcomings of current aircraft and take the technology to the next level. The next-generation of tilt-rotor aircraft will be much more reliable, fuel efficient and capable of hauling even heavier loads.

Airbus Concept

popularmechanics.com

Someone base this concept on the Airbus A380. The A380 is a double-deck aircraft capable of holding 528 passengers. However, the one in the picture is a triple or quadruple decker. Airbus invested around $25 billion on the A380 and have not made their money back, and we do not think they are too eager to create a new one.

X-57 Maxwell

NASA GRAPHIC / NASA LANGLEY/ADVANCED CONCEPTS LAB, AMA, INC.

The X-57 Maxwell might look mundane, but this interesting aircraft is one of NASA’s premier technology demonstrators. As the flagship for the Scalable Convergent Electric Propulsion Technology Operations Research (SCEPTOR) project, the Maxwell will test some of the most farfetched aircraft designs out there. The X-57 is an all-electric aircraft, with fourteen different EM motors driving propellers mounted on the wing leading edges.

North American F-82 Twin Mustang

United States Air Force

The North American F-82 Twin Mustang was the last American piston-engine fighter produced for the US Air Force. It was supposed to be used for World War 2, but the war ended before it was operational. Its first flight was in 1945 and retired in 1953.

Boeing X-48B

nasa.gov

The X-48C Hybrid Wing Body aircraft is one of the newest, most advanced unmanned aircraft in the world, and it’s based at Edwards Air Force Base. Of all the weirdest aircraft on this list, this one is definitely odd looking but probably the most functional out of all of them!

Convair NB-36H Nuclear-Powered Plane

United States Air Force

Billed as the ultimate fuel-efficient heavy lifter for both the private and military sectors, Convair’s NB-36 was powered by a 3-megawatt nuclear reactor. A prototype was constructed quite easily, but the project was scrapped in the late 1950s due to its incredible cost and rather significant safety concerns. Still, this aircraft logged 215 flight hours, including 89 with the reactor running.

Beriev Be-200 Seaplane

doc8643.com

This Russian behemoth is an incredibly versatile amphibious aircraft (1998). Whether used for search and rescue, maritime patrol, cargo or passenger hauling, the Beriev can take off and land from even fairly rough seas with up to 72 passengers. Where it really shines though is when serving as a fire-fighting water tanker. They can swoop down and scoop up 12 tons of water, all while flying at 90% of regular flight speed.

Douglas X-3 Stiletto

nasa.gov

This early X plane flew from 1953 – 1956 and tested all sorts of technologies and techniques necessary for safe and sustain supersonic travel. The X-3’s unique frame started with an ultra slender, streamlined “needle nose” design and small trapezoidal wings. The hope was to craft the thinnest shape possible and cut down on drag when breaking the sound barrier, but that was just the most striking feature.

The Airbus A300-600ST (Super Transporter) or Beluga

Reuters

The Airbus A300-600ST also known as the Beluga is an aircraft modified to carry aircraft parts and oversized cargo. Its first flight was in September 1994. It was produced until 1999.

Dornier Aerodyne pt. 2

Thomas Brückelt

This is the finished product of the previous image. The unmanned vertical take off/landing aircraft utilized by the Germans for….knowledge. There was no practical use other than to determine that it could be done.

Goodyear Inflatable Plane

piximus.net

In the 1950s, Goodyear found themselves bored with tires and blimps and designed an inflatable, flyable aircraft. While the prototype handled itself little better than a powered glider, Goodyear tried hard to market the plane to the US Army. When the military found the powered balloon rather less than up to front-line service standards, Goodyear tried their best to market the plane to civilian hobbyists, with little success.

De Lackner HZ-1 Aerocycle Flying Platform

opex360.com

This hybrid hovercraft/helicopter from 1954 was whipped up for the military but was perhaps the closest the world has come to a flying car. While not incredibly reliable, the system was surprisingly fueled efficient and could have provided longer range than a motorcycle. However, a pair of major crashes grounded the craft and research dollars flowed to safer helicopters for the next few generations.

Tupolev Tu-144

Alberto Storti

The Tupolev Tu-144 is a Russian supersonic 55 passenger airliner that was in operation from 1968-1999. It was introduced into passenger service in 1975, but was removed less than three years later following a second crash.

Piaggio P180 Avanti

Piaggio Aerospace

The Piaggio P.180 Avanti is an Italian executive transport aircraft that seats up to 9 people in a pressurized cabin. It can be flown by 1 or 2 pilots. Its first flight was in September 1986 and is still being produced today.

Lockheed Martin’s HALE-D Airship

Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin’s latest airship concept, the HALE-D, is one of their most ambitious yet. The High Altitude Long Endurance Demonstrator borrows more from bird designs than traditional aircraft plans. The drone blimp is completely solar powered and can operate up to 60,000 feet. By cruising along jet streams and thermals while using its engines mostly to maintain position, the HALE-D is designed to stay airborne for months. Theoretically, even for years. Once on station, the HALE-D could scan a radius of 600 miles with even more powerful sensors than surveillance satellites could carry. This relatively cheap alternative to satellites isn’t just limited to the spying roll. Many programs are active to convert the blimp into a weaponized drone “mothership.” Such a system could hover for vast periods of time over a conflict zone, collecting detailed intelligence the whole time, and then strike targets with unparalleled precision and accuracy.

Ames-Dryden (AD)-1 Oblique Wing

nasa.gov

The NASA AD-1 was an aircraft and a flight test program conducted between 1979 and 1982 at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards California. Its first flight was in December 1979, and it retired in August 1982. For some reason, this feels like one of those toys where you would wind it up and then it would work for a few seconds. Except…it’s actually a functional aircraft.

Lockheed Martin P-791

Denny Lombard, Lockheed Martin

The Lockheed Martin P-791 was an experimental hybrid airship that had its first flight in January 2006 at the US Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, CA. This is a real aircraft that actual took to the skies. Can you imagine just hanging out and seeing this monstrous cloud fly overhead?

Libellula

Wikimedia Commons

This twin-engine British experimental craft was primarily a military plane, though it had incredible potential for civilian purposes as well. First flown in 1945, it possessed incredible endurance and range for such a relatively lightweight transport/bomber. Uniquely, it was the first heavy bomber specifically designed to land on aircraft carriers. The Libellula was able to deliver a 2,000-pound payload out to 1,600 miles and cruise at 400 mph… quite an impressive list of specs for that day and age. As a civilian plane, it would have served as an incredibly powerful medium commuter plane. 

Northrop XB-35

Aviate Collection

The Northrop XB-35 is one of the very strange types of aircraft from World War 2. It was an experimental heavy bomber aircraft developed for the US Air Forces during conflict. Its first flight was in June 1946. It was cancelled in 1949.

Dornier Do 31

amphalon

This odd West German experimental plane was one of the largest VTOL aircraft ever flown. First introduced in 1967, the Do-31 could haul more weight than even the modern MV-22 Osprey. The system wasn’t a tilt-rotor aircraft though. Instead, it required four engines to operate Two Bristol Pegasus vectored-thrust turbofans in the inboard nacelles provided power in forward flight, and four Rolls-Royce RB162 on the outer nacelles generated lift for takeoff. While incredibly reliable, the aircraft was far from cost-efficient and never progressed beyond the prototype stage.

Northrop HL-10

nasa.gov

The first of five space planes constructed for the Lifting Body Research Program of NASA from 1966 to 1970, the HL-10 showed the most promise. It would eventually contribute heavily to the Space Shuttle and influence all future space plane designs. Developing an aircraft that can safely and efficiently maneuver in atmosphere and vacuum is one of the hardest challenges for aerospace engineers. The HL-10’s design offered a revolutionary low lift-over-drag ratio, designed specifically for reentry from space. While the program was canceled after a few years, the data gleaned from testing this “inverted airfoil” lifting body and delta airframe was invaluable to NASA, the military, and even civilian aviation. During a typical lifting body test flight, the B-52—with the research vehicle attached to the pylon mount on the right wing between the fuselage and inboard engine pod—flew to a height of about 45,000 feet (14,000 m) and a launch speed of about 450 mph (720 km/h).

Sky Voyage

Jet Shao

The first of several personal aircraft on this list, the Sky Voyage is definitely one of the most ambitious and truly unique aircraft out there. As a combination airship and glider, the Sky Voyage family of aircraft could revolutionize sport flying as well as your daily commute. The ultra-light ship can take off vertically by inflating the gasbag in an upright position. Once aloft, the aircraft is maneuvered through the wind and thermals like a glider, but also includes a backup hydrogen fuel cell, powered by a turbine engine. Some planned variants could be completely autonomous as well and would be able to stay airborne potentially for days. 

Sikorsky X-Wing

Monster Machine

The Sikorsky X-Wing was developed in the mid-1970s by the David W. Taylor Naval Ship Research and Development Center under DARPA funding. It was released in 1986 but never flew before the program was canceled in 1988. This one feels like the engineers couldn’t decide what to do with this, so they just did everything.

SNECMA Coléoptère

airspacemag.com

The SNECMA C.450 Coléoptère was a French vertical takeoff and landing aircraft made by in the 1950s. Its first flight was in May 1959. On its 9th flight, the aircraft was destroyed due to insufficient instrumentation and a lack of visual benchmarks making the plane too inclined and too slow to maintain altitude.

Stipa-Caproni

Brinati T., Fischetti U., Stefanutti S., L’uomo e l’aria – L’aeronautica vol. II Editore F. Vallardi 1939 pag. 336

The Stipa-Caproni or the Caproni Stipa, was an experimental Italian plane designed in 1932 by Luigi Stipa and built by Caproni. Its first flight was in October 1932. Ahh, what a year…

Kaman K-Max

Pfc. George, U.S. Marine Corps

The Kaman K-Max is an American helicopter with intermeshing rotors. It is able to lift a payload of over 6,000 pounds. Its first flight was in December 1991. It was in production from 1991 to 2003. It went back into production in 2015.

Rutan Model 202 Boomerang

Ken Mist

This high-endurance sports plane was designed to maximize safety while performing crazy aerobatic stunts. While far from fuel efficient, its reliability and incredible climb/dive specs were rarely seen in a civilian aircraft. The asymmetrical Rutan Model 202 Boomerang only sat two, but they were in for a heck of a ride. This 1996 aircraft could still fly, just as well as a Cessna, if one of its twin engines failed.

Short Skyvan SC-7

Ad Meskens

The Short SC.7 Skyvan, nicknamed the “Flying Shoebox”, was a British 19-seat twin-turboprop aircraft manufactured by the Short Brothers in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It is used for short-haul freight and skydiving. Its first flight was in January 1963.

Blohm & Voss BV 141

historia.mforos.com

The Blohm & Voss BV 141 was a German World War 2 tactical reconnaissance aircraft. Its first flight was in February 1938. The structural asymmetry is its most notable feature, especially as this aircraft never actually did too much during the war. Other than create headlines due to its oddness.

Nemuth Parasol

Media Platforms Design Team

The Nemeth Parasol was tested at Miami University. Part biplane, part flying saucer, all strange. This plane was a parasol wing above a conventional fuselage and tail. It was powered by a propeller in a tractor configuration.

Alexander Lippisch’s Aerodyne, A Wingless Experimental Aircraft

Media Platforms Design Team

This funky barrel plane generated propulsion from two co-axial shrouded propellers. Built in 1968, the Dornier Aerodyne was the first, and only, “wingless” VTOL aircraft. Only a few test flights were ever completed in its two-month evaluation period, but all were made without incident. Still, Alexander Lippisch never found a buyer for the aircraft and eventually scrapped the program in 1971. The flight principles behind the Aerodyne are rather simple. The combination of lift and thrust production in a single construction unit and the flow channel, i.e. a ducted fan. Flaps at the end of the fan divert the outflowing air to produce lift, thrust, or a combination of both. As a result, the Aerodyne could be steered and flown in the entire range between hovering and full-forward flight. 

Northrup Tacit Blue

United States Air Force

The Northrop Tacit Blue was a stealth demonstrator aircraft with a low probability of intercept radar. Its first flight was in February 1982 and was retired in 1985. That three years was plagued by odd and expensive repair issues. It never quite “took off”.

The Orlyonok

Alan Wilson

The A-90 Orlyonok was a Soviet ground effect vehicle that was designed by Rostislav Evgenievich Alexeyev of the Central Hydrofoil Design Bureau. Its first flight was in 1972. It was retired in 1993. Despite its odd look, this plane was quite effective in various roles and became a beloved aircraft for the Soviets.

Curtiss-Wright VZ-7

US Government

The Curtiss-Wright VZ-7 also known as the VZ-7AP, was a vertical takeoff and landing quadrotor helicopter designed for the US Army. It was known as a “flying jeep”. Its first flight was in 1958 and was retired in 1960.

Hyper III

nasa.gov

This massive lifting body drone, built at the NASA Flight Research Center in 1969, was far beyond its time. Most of the early technology involved is just now coming to fruition. The Hyper III was the pinnacle of the M2 lifting body program and equipped with a flat bottom and sides, as well as a simple straight wing with no control surfaces. The concept simulated a pop-out wing that had been proposed for a space traveling re-entry vehicle. The Hyper III’s only control surfaces were a pair of fins with rudders canted at 40°, which also had hinged elevators on the horizontal surface. The Hyper III’s first and only flight took place on 12 December 1969, when it was launched from a helicopter at 10,000 feet. The aircraft glided 5 km, turned and then flew back before landing. After the three-minute flight, it was never flown again for budgetary reasons. 

Lockheed XFV

United States Air Force

The Lockheed XFV was also known as the Salmon, was an American experimental tail sitter prototype aircraft built in the 1950s. Its first flight was in June 1954. Although it looked like it was peddle operated, this aircraft was actually quite useful.

Bartini Beriev VVA-14

Alex Eremite & Alex Beltyukov/Wikimedia Commons

This clever Soviet-era plane was a vertical take-off and landing amphibious aircraft, but it was also so much more than a simple seaplane. The Bartini Beriev VVA-14 Vertikal`no-Vzletayuschaya Amphibia employed a wing-in-ground-effect and could haul massive payloads. Designed as a high-performance, long endurance transport that could launch from water and cruise at high speed over long distances, it could also skim just above the sea surface and take advantage of aerodynamic ground effects. The VVA-14 was designed by Italian-born designer Robert Bartini in answer to a perceived requirement to destroy the United States Navy Polaris missile submarines, but only a few were ever made

Vought V-173

Michael Barera

The Vought V-173 also known as the Flying Pancake was an American experimental test aircraft built with the Vought XF5U ”Flying Flapjack” US Navy fighter ship program during World War 2. Its first flight was in November 1942 and it retired March 1947.

Proteus

nasa.gov

This odd, tandem-wing research aircraft, built by Scaled Composites in 1998, was designed to serve as a temporary communications satellite. First flown in the late 1990s, the Scaled Composites Model 281 Proteus tested many technologies for use in high altitude telecommunications relays for the military and research institutions. Due to its incredibly efficient airframe, the Proteus could cruise at 65,000 feet for over 18 hours. All at a fraction of the cost of a satellite in low earth orbit. Of course, the introduction of unmanned drones made such piloted aircraft unnecessarily expensive for long-endurance missions like these and the project was scrapped.

Scaled Composites White Knight Two

United States Air Force

This ambitious research aircraft experimented with pivoting wings between 1979 and 1982, but a new version is in use today. The Scaled Composites Model 348 White Knight Two (WK2) is a jet-powered light cargo aircraft used to loft Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo spacecraft to launch altitude. Built by Scaled Composites as the first of a two-stage, suborbital-space manned launch system, the WK2 can trace its lineage all the way back to NASA’s Proteus experimental plane. With its “open architecture” design available for anyone to modify, and explicit plans for multi-purpose use, the aircraft could also operate as a zero-g aircraft for passenger training or microgravity science flights, handle missions in high-altitude testing more generally, or be used to launch payloads other than SpaceShipTwo. 

B377PG – NASA’s Super Guppy Turbine Cargo Plane

Tony Landis / nasa.gov

First flown in 1980, the B377PG “Pregnant Guppy” was one of the most unique transports ever constructed. This modified Boeing 377 is the perfect hauler for those gigantic, weirdly shaped payloads that need to be transported cross-country in a hurry. Originally commissioned by NASA to move components of the Apollo moon missions around, Guppies were still used extensively by the private sector for years after the program was canceled. 

X-29 Forward Swept Wing Jet

nasa.gov

One of NASA’s coolest aircraft, this technology demonstrator (1984 – 1992) was way ahead of its time. The X-29 was known as a “three surface aircraft,” meaning it drew lift from the front canards, forward-swept wings, and aft strake control surfaces, rather than just traditional wings. Employing this three-surface longitudinal control significantly reduced trim and wave drag. To fight instability, the rear strakes provided trim whenever the plane’s center of gravity shifted. The net effect was to create one of the most ultra-maneuverable aircraft that ever existed. This unique configuration, combined with a center of gravity well aft of the aerodynamic center, made the craft inherently unstable. Stability was provided by the computerized flight control system making 40 corrections per second. The flight control system was made up of three redundant digital computers backed up by three redundant analog computers; any of the three could fly it on its own, but the redundancy allowed them to check for errors. Each of the three systems could “vote” on their measurements so that if one malfunctioned it could be ignored. It was estimated that a total failure of the system was as unlikely as a mechanical failure in an airplane with a conventional arrangement. 

Avro Canada VZ-9 Avrocar

United States Air Force

This flying saucer was one of the world’s first successful vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft. Developed as a secret U.S. military project in 1959, partly at the legendary Area 51 complex, the Avrocar was way ahead of its time. The propulsion system was intended to ride the Coandă effect and provide both lift and thrust from a single “turborotor.” This internal propeller sucked in air from underneath and blew out exhaust from the rim of the disk-shaped car/plane. Originally designed as a fighter-like aircraft capable of very high speeds and altitudes, the project was repeatedly scaled back over time and the U.S. Air Force eventually abandoned it. Development was then taken up by the U.S. Army for a tactical combat aircraft requirement, a sort of high-performance helicopter. During flight testing, the Avrocar proved to have serious unresolved thrust and stability problems that seriously degraded its performance; subsequently, the project was canceled in September 1961. 

DH.110-Sea-Vixen

wallycacsabre

The de Havilland DH.100 Sea Vixen was the first British combat aircraft with two seats to hit supersonic speed. The design used for the aircraft borrowed elements of the company’s first-generation jet fighters, the de Havilland Vampire and de Havilland Venom. The Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Army used these from the 1950s to the early 1970s. They put the DH.100 in combat during the Aden Emergency. By 1972, The Royal Navy retired the aircraft in favor of the American constructed McDonnell Douglas Phantom FG.1 interceptor.

Otto Celera 500L

Brad Adkins/Otto Aviation

This is the Otto Celera 500L. The plane will perform the role of a business and utility aircraft. The startup company that designed it wants the Otto Celera 500L to have a good fuel economy and lower operating costs compared to other competitors on the market. The aircraft has one five-blade propeller in a pusher configuration (meaning it is behind the engine) and has laminar shapes for the wings, tail sections, and fuselage. As of August 2020, Otto Aviation Group has conducted 31 test flights. They plan to release it between 2023-and 2025 for $4.5-5 million.

Blériot 125

Asar Studios

Blériot 125 was a French airliner. It had its first flight on March 9, 1931. The aircraft was 45 ft 4 in (13.63) with 96 ft 5 in (29.4m) wingspan. Inside, it could hold up twelve people thanks to the aircraft’s twin fuselage. These pods had a center section that connected them and held the engine. The company’s first outing with the plane illustrated some massive issues they tried to rectify until 1933. Unfortunately, due to the prototype’s poor performance, Blériot canceled the project in 1934.

Leduc 0.10/.21

xplanes.free.fr

The Leduc 0.10 was a French aircraft built at the Breguet Aviation factory. The manufacturer finished it in 1947. This aircraft was one of the first to use a ramjet exclusively for power. With the design, it could not take off by itself and needed a parasite aircraft mother ship. Its successor, the Leduc 0.21, which had its first flight in 1953, contained many of the same features but refined them. Breguet added tip tanks to the wings and increased its size by about 30% compared to the Leduc 0.21. Research continued with the Leduc 022 prototype before the company ended the project in the late 1950s.

General Airborne Transport XCG-16

San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives

The United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) requested a new transport/assault glider in 1930. General Airborne Transport came up with the XCG-16. It competed against the Waco CG-13 A at Wright Field. The manufacturer conducted the first flight on September 11, 1943. They tried to execute lifting fuselage theories in their designs. Despite a fatal demonstration and design problems, the USAAF still approved a contract with General Airborne Transport. Ultimately, even with updates, it did not meet the military’s prospects, and they terminated the contract in 1944.

Vanguard Omniplane

prototypes.free.fr

Two previous Piasecki Helicopter Corporation’s made their own company called Vanguard Air and Marine Corporation in 1959. They wanted to design an executive VTOL aircraft and came up with the Vanguard Omniplane. The ducts on the plane included vertical thrust propellers. Someone could close them thanks to venetian blind shutters to create a forward flight. They began ground tests and NASA wind tunnel tests in 1959. Hover tests started in 1961, but mechanical issues plagued the Omniplane, and Vanguard canceled the project early the following year.

Westland WG33

swag-trip-logs.blogspot.com

Westland constructed this 2-seat light reconnaissance helicopter in 1977 at Yeovil, Somerset. They intended the Wg-33 to either have one/two-piston engines or a Plessey Meon turboshaft engine. The manufacturer’s goal was to build a helicopter that did not the need an expert pilot. They used a circular fuselage to give the pilot a magnificent outside view. The mock-up Westland made did not drum up enthusiasm from the UK Ministry of Defense, and they canceled the project in 1979. The model ended up at the Helicopter Museum in South West England.

M2-F1

nasa.gov

The M2-F1 was an attempt by NASA to test the light wingless lifting-body concept. The purpose of the design was to land a spacecraft horizontally following atmospheric reentry. By not having wings, the aircraft would take less damage from heat during the process. Dryden Flight Research Center finished construction in 1963. The M2-F1 was largely successful during test flights, which helped NASA look into heavyweight lifting bodies based on the studies. These, in turn, influenced the Space Shuttle Program. NASA retired the aircraft in 1966.

Rotary Rocket Roton

fantastic-plastic.com/ theloopnewspaper.com

The Rotary Rocket Roton concept that Bevin McKinney came up with combined a helicopter with a launch vehicle. The design was slightly revised with a rotating annular aerospike engine when manufacturing it. The Roton is cone-shaped with a folded rotary wing on top for a safe landing. It is 63 ft (19 m) in height. In 1999, the aircraft had three successful flights. Unfortunately, a fourth flight was scheduled but did not occur due to the company closing in 2000, which relied entirely on private financing.

XB-70 Valkyrie

Martin Copp

North American Aviation constructed the XB-70 Valkyrie as a prototype for the B-70. The manufacturer’s goal was to operate at an altitude of 70,000 feet and hit a cruise speed of Mach 3. Essentially the aircraft could “ride” its shock wave. The XB-70 took its first flight in 1964. Around that time, Kennedy Administration canceled the project. Many saw a high-speed manned strategic bomber as unnecessary due to the capabilities of missiles. Though XB-70 was still active until 1969, Nasa wanted to use the aircraft to examine the “control of structural dynamics.” 

BRyan XV-5 Vertifan

504 collection

This aircraft is the Ryan XV-5 Vertifan. The United States Army requested it in 1961. The aircraft used a General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojets plus General Electric X353-5 Lift-fans for the wings. The manufacturer, Ryan Aeronautical, even had a fan in the nose that used engine exhaust gas to power it. The fans helped the aircraft perform Vertical Take-Off and Landing. While the ducted lift fans proved successful, the project had fatal incidents, which led to the XV-5’s cancelation. However, the fans were not the issue, and the military incorporated the concept in future aircraft.