Planes have obviously come a long way since the Wright brothers first took flight. New innovations to flight coming about each year, making it safer and more efficient. At the same time, some have tried to “perfect” the process of flying, and have failed miserably.
A number of designs before the Wright Brothers were laughable, but so too were designs constructed by militaries from around the world during the height of the Cold War. The faulty designs aren’t just limited to olden days — some are more modern than you think! Here’s a list of flying machines that never quite lived up to their names…
The Fisher P-75 Eagle Didn’t Live Up To Its Name
There were huge hopes for the Fisher P-75 Eagle. The “75” part of the name for the plane was inspired by an aircraft that flew during World War I in France, which allowed it to shoot a 75-mm gun. And Eagle, well, what’s more American than that? Put them together, and it’s easy to see why this plane design was generating high expectations.
The flight aspect of the plane wasn’t so much of a hit. The idea seemed to make sense: the plane itself borrowed other designs from several types of planes, so in theory it should take each of those best aspects and fly even better. But the engine didn’t have the horsepower necessary to get the plane flying remarkably well, and other performance factors demonstrated the Fisher P-75 Eagle was lackluster, at best.
The Douglas DC-10 Had Cargo Door Problems
When it comes to planes, you want something that has a performance rating that demonstrates it isn’t accident-prone. The DC-10 wasn’t that plane. To date, the jet is considered one of the worst to ever exist, with 55 accidents and many fatalities under its belt.
The biggest issue with the plane is that its cargo doors opened in the opposite direction, outwards, that most planes did. In 1972, this led to one of the DC-10s opening its cargo doors mid-flight. If that’s not bad enough, in 1979, the plane saw one of its engines fall off its wings during a take-off. Happily, the jet is safer now, as it has had a number of redesigns since the 1970s.
The Baade 152 Ends In Tragedy
The Baade 152 is another plane on our list that was a failure, and has a tragic ending. The East German-designed plane was the country’s first-ever airliner. It was designed based off a bomber plane concept, and had outrigger wheels on the wing tips…which works well for bombers, but not so much airline planes.
This and other design flaws resulted in a crash on only the Baade 152’s second test flight. All of the crew members died due to the crash. Another issue? The plane’s fuel lines didn’t work as it descended from the sky. The project was scrapped in 1961.
New Look, But Can’t Fly
American aviation was (and still is) considered the gold standard for many around the world. So it’s curious why anyone in the U.S. military thought this plane would function properly. The Rockwell XFV-12 was a supersonic Navy fighter jet prototype that had a unique look. The thrusters on the plane were designed to allow for a vertical lift-off (we’re sensing a theme with such planes here).
The 1970s prototype didn’t work as it was designed to — only three-quarters of it could lift off the ground, and the plane itself never flew. A second attempt was abandoned as it cost too much to make something that probably would have also failed.
Failure At The Paris Air Show
Two supersonic airliners came out in the late 1970s. One you may have heard of because of how successful it was: the Concorde. The other, you might not ever have read about. That’s because the Tupolev Tu-144 was a major fail.
In fact, the first passenger prototype for the Tu-144 was about as embarrasing as it could possibly get. It crashed at the Paris Air show, due to 22 of the 24 central systems failing in the middle of its flight. Dozens of attempts were made to keep the airliner going (55 in total), but it was ultimately shut down.
A Horrible French Attempt
What can we say about vertically-launching aircraft? Every country wants them, and even if they don’t get the first test right, they’ll try it again. Sadly, sometimes those failed tests result in tragic outcomes, and the militaries testing them out don’t learn much from them.
The Dassault Balzac V was France’s attempt at creating a vertically-launching fighter jet. In the first test, it was a disaster: the plane crashed, and the pilot died. The French military persevered, however, and made a second attempt with a new, but similar prototype. It also crashed, but luckily the pilot was able to eject from that one before being injured.
The Bell FM-1 Airacuda Had More Problems Than Improvements
Right before World War II broke out in the European theater, a new aircraft from Bell was being produced that many hoped would revolutionize fighting styles. In 1937, the Bell FM-1 Airacuda placed the engines and guns of the aircraft in separate places than were seen in previous models. This made for good shooting strategy, but there were other problems with the plane.
For one, the engines would often overheat. Another issue? If a gunner needed to “bail out” of the plane, the rear-placed propellors pretty much ensured they’d be goners. And the guns, while placed in a better position, tended to leave the gunner stations full of smoke, making it difficult to see what they were shooting at in the first place.
The Vought F7U Cutlass
The Vought F7U Cutlass was another design that made sense on paper but didn’t work in the real world. The jet got rid of the regular tail seen in many fighters, and brought in a swept design instead. Pretty nifty looking — but the plane was impractical.
At least a quarter of the entire fleet was lost to accidents. The plane was fast, but it had a hard time staying in the air. It also had difficulties taking off to begin with, as the turbojets didn’t have the thrust necessary to always do so. And landings — a key part of the flight experience — were also problematic. At least three of the prototypes of the F7U wound up crashing.
Here’s a thought: using a nuclear reactor to power a plane is probably a bad idea. But that idea didn’t stop designers from creating the Convair NB-36H, which was also known as the “Crusader.”
It’s laughable now, but back in the 1950s nuclear devices were all the rage — people thought the technology was the answer to all of the world’s problems. So building the NB-36 wasn’t entirely outside the realm of possibilities. Fortunately, the U.S. government only flew the plane a few times (well, 47 in total) before realizing it was more of a liability than it was worth.
A Jet For Crop Dusting
The next plane on our list is the PZL M-15 Belphegor, the only mass-produced biplane in history. Created in Poland in 1972, the Belphegor was designed as a means to crop dust farms in Soviet-run nations in a more efficient manner.
But crop dusting is more of an art than people think, which requires maneuvers and turns to ensure the crops all get blanketed with chemicals to help them. THe Belphegor, meanwhile, had jet power, making it very difficult to do the things a crop duster is designed to do! The jet was also more expensive to purchase than the planes it was meant to replace, so in addition to being hard to navigate, it was also redundant.
The Yak-38 Could Take Off, But Not Much Else
The Harrier Jump Jet is the standard for planes in the world that want to take off in a vertical way, without the need for a runway. Many have tried to repeat the British feat of aviation, but few have been able to do so…including the Soviet Union’s attempt with the Yakovlev Yak-38.
The jet itself was able to make a vertical take-off, but it was inefficient in many other ways. It could only travel for 800 miles, for instance, and that’s only if it didn’t have weapons attached. It also didn’t work in hot weather — it could only sustain flight for 15 minutes in warm temperatures. But it got off the ground, so “A” for effort!
Its Costs Weighed It Down…
The Lockheed Martin VH-71 works well enough, but the helicopter makes our list for a different reason. We are, after all, talking about aircraft that doesn’t work or is otherwise grounded, and the VH-71 fits the latter.
The helicopter won a competition in 2005, after all, to be used by the Marine Corps. It even became the new fleet of helicopters to be used personally by the president. But the original cost for the VH-71 nearly doubled, and went up to $11.2 billion for the fleet. Some say that lobbying had something to do with the inflated price, others blame added requests for the vehicle, but either way, it’s done.
Some Leakage Problems
When pilot Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947, he was flying a research plane called the Bell X-1. Naturally, other air forces from around the globe wanted to replicate the feat, and so they produced their own fast research planes. It had the obvious results — people were too fast to produce them, and they didn’t have similar outcomes that Yeager had.
The Bristol 188 was Britain’s answer to the Bell X-1 but it had obvious design flaws…including a leaking engine whenever it was in flight. The plane barely reached Mach 2, even though it was designed to go Mach 2.6.
At Least The Model Flew
Samuel Pierpont Langley was the secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, so naturally, he had a very inquisitive mind. In 1901 he designed a prototype plane called the Aerodrome. The model flew, so it was time to make a life-sized replica and attempt the first manned power flight.
Everything should have worked, but it didn’t. The Aerodrome ended up crashing in the Potomac River. Langley tried a second time to get the plane to fly, but the same result (another crash into the river) happened. Two years later, the Wright Brothers would design and successfully fly their own plane at Kitty Hawk.
The McDonnell XF-85 Goblin didn’t have problems taking off of the ground — that’s because it’s a plane that’s known as a “parasite fighter.” The idea was that the Goblin would attach itself to a larger plane. When it encountered combat, the Goblin could detach, and fight off the enemy planes during the battle.
The theory sounded good in someone’s head, but it didn’t work well in practice. The Goblin faced problems with its main task — its .50-cal machine gun was simply outgunned by other planes’ guns. The project ended, and the Goblin was viewed as an utter failure.
The 1950s saw many strange ideas from the U.S. military — remember the plane with a nuclear reactor on it? — and unfortunately, a lot of these ideas actually came about to the testing phase, and sometimes beyond.
The Lockheed XFV-1 was a plane that was designed to take off vertically, which is strategic for many reasons. Unfortunately, the designers also required pilots to land vertically, and what’s more, backwards. Oh yeah — the plane also had the unfortunate tendency to have it’s engine tear itself to pieces.
The Plane Wasn’t Aerodynamic
The 1980s and 1990s saw some more research into flight go wrong. Imagine a jet plane, but with its wings on backward, with a forward-swept design. That’s the Grumman X-29A in a nutshell.
Looking back, it makes sense why this plane didn’t work out right. But the idea behind it was that the backward wings would make it handle better. The actual result? It was not aerodynamic. One NASA historian put it in a blunt way: “It was unflyable — literally — without a digital flight computer on board, which made corrections to the flight path 40 times a second.” Yikes.
The De Havilland Comet
The first commercial jet airliner, the De Havilland Comet, was seen as a successful step in the flying of people to and from great distances. It also had many problems, including overshooting runways and having random bouts of decompression in midflight. Three Comets crashed within the first 12 months of the airliner’s run.
The company kept at it, redesigning the Comet whenever they found it had faulty mechanical designs. But it still resulted in several accidents, some of them fatal, all in the name of progress toward commercial flight. Thankfully, the Comet was eventually retired, but the last version was still flying up until 1997.
When we think back to the Wright Brothers historic 1903 flight, their “Wright Flyer” is considered a marvel of modern aviation — the “first powered, heavier-than-air machine to achieve controlled, sustained flight with a pilot aboard,” according to the Smithsonian Institute.
We celebrate this marvel, but if we compared it to today’s standards, this plane would be considered terribly designed as well. Think about it: the plane could only fly for 59 seconds straight, and was hard for its pilots to navigate safely. It could only cover a distance of 852 feet, too — an amazing accomplishment for its time, yes, but a failure by today’s demands for planes.
The Soviets Failed With The Tu-144
Speed is important in commercial travel. The Tupolev TU-144 could reach 1,200 miles per hour, making it a supersonic transport aircraft that was designed for commercial flight. But the plane was ultimately a failure, as the Tu-144 had many unreliable flights during the years. In 1978, for example, there was a failed fuel tank valve on the final flight of the aircraft.
Among the many difficulties and safety concerns from the Tu-144, another issue made it one that customers hated. It was incredibly loud. It’s said that passengers, even those sitting next to each other, had to pass notes just to have a conversation.
“The Devil’s Hoverbike”
Here’s another 1950s “innovation” from the United States Army that should have been scrapped when it was originally drawn up for consideration in the design process. The Devil’s Hoverbike was meant to be sort of a one-person helicopter, which allowed its user to “hover” while going about missions.
The biggest problem was that the rotator blades were situated directly underneath where the user stood! One small misstep, and it was the end of the line for whoever was flying the device. Eventually, someone figured it out and probably said something along the lines of, “Hey, that’s probably not a good idea.”
Is This The Worst Plane On Our List?
Here’s possibly the worst plane ever built. How do we know it was so bad? The many who designed it was accused many times over of being a con man. Dr. William Whitney Christmas produced “The Christmas Bullet,” and Vincent J Bernelli, who helped him design it, would only take credit for the design of the only part that seemed to work — the fuselage. Not a good start, guys.
Christmas asked pilot Cuthbert Mills to test the plane, and invited his mother to come watch the test flight. You can probably see where this is going. The plane was able to get high enough up in the air to be a fatal crash if things went wrong — then things did indeed go wrong, with the wings of the plane collapsing and the fuselage falling down to the ground below. Mills perished due to the crash.
This Plane Couldn’t Stay In The Air Very Long
The purpose of an airplane is to carry a person or group of people a vast distance in a shorter amount of time than a car or walking would allow for. But the plane should probably last more than three minutes in the air still, in order to be deemed effective.
Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet, a rocket-powered aircraft designed in Germany to stop enemy planes, was fast, and effective — but it couldn’t stay in the air longer than a modern-day television commercial break! This required constant refueling during missions to defend military bases, which in turn resulted in fuel leaks, due to hard landings each time it came down. What’s worse, testing of the plane resulted in a number of deaths.
The Noviplano Caught Fire. After It Crashed. In A Lake.
What has nine wings and is prone to start on fire after it crashes? The Caproni-built Ca 60 Noviplano, that’s what. This Italian-based plane was made in the 1920s, and was designed to carry at least 100 passengers across the Atlantic Ocean. It also had three sets of three wings.
The plane set off from Lake Maggiori in Italy, but never even cross any borders of neighboring countries. It flew for 60 feet before it crashed into the lake below. As it was being towed out, the plane also caught on fire. How does that even happen in a lake??
The Blackburn ‘Roc’ Couldn’t Do Its Job
The idea behind the Blackburn Roc was simple: put a machine gun behind the pilot so that a gunner can fly behind another fleet of planes, and defend them against enemies from behind. Simple, and makes sense, yes? Except the machine gun weighed a lot, and slowed the plane down. This made it slow, and it was difficult for the Roc to even do its state mission in a proper way.
The Royal Navy saw the Roc as a liability, and wouldn’t allow the plane to even take off from its carriers. Throughout the entire Second World War, the Roc only shot down one aircraft. Not the worst plane on this list, to be sure, but a failure nonetheless.
Blackburn’s Botha Was Deemed ‘Worthless’
The Blackburn Botha is another badly designed plane by the company, a two-engied torpedo bomber that was also used for reconnaissance missions. Or at least, that’s what one hoped it would do. Eventually, the aircraft was deemed “worthless,” as it also failed in providing what it was set out to do.
The compartment view from where the crew stood was so bad that reconnaissance was basically impossible. The plane also lacked power. Four crew members were needed inside the Botha, but this increased the weight overall and made firing torpedos more difficult, too. This is all ignoring the fact that the plane was designed poorly in and of itself, which made it difficult to fly and resulted in several crashes. Blackburn really had a bad track record around this time…
The EMB-120 Brasilia
A plane that has had a number of accidents probably should be out of the air by now, but that’s not always the case with some of the items in this list. The Embraer EMB-120 Brasilia has had a storied history of not being a reliable passenger plane to ride within. In 1991, there was an incident where the twin turbo-prop planes broke up mid-flight, resulting in all 14 individuals on board being killed. There have been other accidents as well.
In spite of those problems, the Brasilia remains in flight. It’s been described as one of the worst commuter planes out there — which is probably why Ameriflight airlines, based out of Texas, uses them as freighters only.
Decapitation Was A Concern For This Plane’s Passengers
The British Royal Flying Corps was always looking for ways to innovate its flight tactics during the first World War. One way they thought might help was to increase the line of fire for a passenger in a plane to shoot from. They developed the plane, which was called the B.E. 9.
The concept was successful, in that it did indeed increase the line of fire. But there were significant problems with it as well — an errant or crash landing could do significant harm to the passenger, including resulting in decapitation from the propeller blades, due to the redesign. One commander called it “an extremely dangerous machine from the passenger’s point of view.” We tend to agree!
No Love Lost For The Albacore
Sometimes a plane is just plain unliked. When it’s predecessor is preferred to it, even if it’s meant to be an upgrade from the older model, you can tell right away that it’s not going to stick around for long.
The Albacore, build by Fairey Aviation during World War II, was meant to replace the Swordfish, but pilots didn’t like it. They saw no problems with flying the older model still, and whenever possible most pilots would actually request to do so during the war. The Albacore, which was a torpedo bomber, didn’t even make it through the whole war, and was retired by 1943. The Swordfish, which predated the Albacore, lasted longer.
The MiG-23 Just Didn’t Cut It
There is yet another plane that was brought in to replace an older model, this time in the Soviet Union, that pilots didn’t like. The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23 was the first aircraft from the Soviet blog of countries with “look-down/shoot-down” radar tech, but its cramped cockpit didn’t allow the pilot to have much vision when it came to flying, at least when compared to the predecessor, the MiG-21.
Designed in 1970, many of the Soviet bloc air forces retired their MiG-23s, but some of them are actually still in service today. Still, the plane wasn’t as popular as some thought it would be.
What Flying In A Yak-42 Is Like (Hint: It’s Not Great)
The Yakovlev Yak-42 is not a well-liked passenger jet plane — especially among critics who write about these types of things. According to an article from Jalopnik magazine, one such critic, Sir Halffast, wrote about his experiences on-board the Yak-42. “The thought that a plane of this ‘caliber’ is still operating in 2013 is terrible,” Halffast explained.
He didn’t stop with those words of discouragement, listing numerous ways in which he was disappointed. “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.”
Critics Also Weighed In On The Ilyushin Il-62
The Yak-42 wasn’t the only plane discussed in that Jalopnik article from above. Other readers weighed in on separate bad plane experiences, including one person who wrote about the Ilyushin Il-62. “It still uses manual flight controls, no power assist to move those flight control surfaces,” that individual wrote.
That person had more to say, remarking that more aspects about the plane were reliant on manual labor — literally. “If some ice gets in a hinge, it’s just your muscles that will break it loose,” they added. “It also has a history of failed thrust reversers and exploding engines that damage neighboring engines.”
A Flying Coffin
If you are ever part of a discussion on planes that pilots and crew hate, you ought to bring up the Brewster Buffalo, the United States Navy’s first monoplane fighter aircraft. Other countries used the Brewster Buffalo as well, including Finland, Australia, and Great Britain, but by the end of World War II, the plane was all but obsolete.
The plane itself was terribly unpredictable. It was also overweight, and hard to maneuver. Japan’s planes were far better than the Buffalo, and it was clear a change was needed. Landing the thing was hard, too — the Buffalo was nicknamed the “flying coffin,” particularly because its landing gears often collapsed completely while trying to land on an aircraft carrier.
The ATR 72
American Eagle Airlines had a fleet of ATR 72 planes, but critics hated them. In Jalopnik magazine, contributor Alex Murel told readers to avoid the plane whenever it was possible to do so, calling it “massively outdated.” Murel also complained that the fleet was “starting to fall apart,” according to his column.
Safety was a major concern for Murel. “Eleven of the 508 built have been destroyed in crashes that resulted in the deaths of over 190 people,” he wrote. That’s definitely not a great track record, but some planes are still in service with other providers to this day.
When Glue Is An Issue
Near the end of World War II, a new plane, the Heinkel He-162, was developed by the German military. It was designed, crafted, and the first plane put together, all within 90 days. If that’s not too reassuring to you, consider this: to save on metal parts, the plane was also made out of wood.
That meant, to keep it together, the plane required glue, and a lot of it. The glue actually became a liability for the plane, as it began to corrode the exterior and airframe of the craft. It’s no wonder that this plane, which was hastily designed, was also retired very quickly. It was introduced in January 1945, but retired by May of the same year…but it’s possible that the war’s end in the European theater played a greater role in the plane’s end than anything else.
The Fairey Battle Was Too Heavy
The Fairey Battle was a promising plane that was developed by the Royal Air Force, that included an engine of a Rolls-Royce Merlin. Sounds great so far! It was believed that the engine was going to vastly improve the aircraft compared to others within the RAF.
But the engine was actually heavy, which made the aircraft slow during World War II. A slow plane does not a battle win, and so within a single week, around 100 Fairey Battle planes were shot down. They were out of the war completely by 1940, withdrawn by the RAF for being ineffective in their fights.
The Douglas TBD Devastator Was Slow
The Douglas TBD Devastator was a disappointment for the United States Navy during World War II. The plane had a serious flaw: it could only release a torpedo under certain circumstances, like flying in a straight line and going at a slow (for an airplane) speed of 115 miles per hour. As with other planes in the war that went slow, this had a disastrous outcome.
At the Battle of Midway, the Devastators were almost completely decimated. Only six of the 41 that were launched in the battle returned safely to their respective aircraft carriers, demonstrating a huge loss in life for the Navy during the battle.
You Might Want Earplugs Aboard The Saab 340
Representing Sweden on this list of notoriously awful aircraft is the twin-engine turboprop Saab 340. Designed in 1983, it was created in partnership between two separate companies, Saab and Fairchild Aircraft. But there was a big problem with the plane: flyers aboard its commercial flights thought it was incredibly loud.
One person who wrote about their experience on FlyerTalk explained in an online post. “I flew the Saab-340 last week for the first time…I could not believe the loud noise of the engine.” They had a suggestion for anyone else thinking about sitting aboard the plane: “Might think about having earplugs available.”
The MD-80 Is Noisy AND Slow
The McDonnell Douglas MD-80 has had many problems over the years. The passenger jet has crashed, resulting in the deaths of many passengers on board when it has. In July 2014, for instance, one MD-80 crashed on its way to Algiers, 50 minutes after takeoff. All 110 passengers, and six crew members, died, although weather issues may have played a factor this time.
Aside from the safety concerns, the plane is also disliked by those who do fly on it. It’s reportedly cramped, and slow. Delta Airlines and American Airlines still have the MD-80 within their fleets, but many flyers choose to take a different route if they see what plane they have to take.
Pack Light On The Bombardier Dash 8
If you’re flying people on a commercial flight, you want to make sure they can arrive with their luggage ready to go. Things were difficult for flyers on board the Bombardier Dash 8, however, as the plane cannot hold every passenger’s luggage. It’s apparently an issue with weight for the plane, as it can’t fly right if there’s too much stowed away.
Passengers on board these planes have also complained about the way the plane flies in general, even without the extra weight. There’s a lot of “tossing and turning by crosswinds,” reported one flyer, as well as “loud propeller noise.”