Please enjoy the following inglorious parade of folly and nincompoopery
June 1, 2016 6:00 PM   Subscribe

We wrote the Navy: ‘We think it is inadvisable to land the airplane.’ They came back with one paragraph that said ‘We agree.'” The 10 worst US aircraft. posted by T.D. Strange (65 comments total) 67 users marked this as a favorite
 
Bonus: The ten worst carrier aircraft
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:03 PM on June 1, 2016


"That's quite a model, sir."
"Model?"
posted by jonmc at 6:09 PM on June 1, 2016 [17 favorites]


Standing above the whirling, unprotected rotors the infantryman of the future was required simply to lean in the direction he wished to go, much like a modern Segway. The difference being that a Segway is unlikely to chop one’s body into small pieces should you fall off. Eventually the realisation that the DH-4 was capable only of rendering the modern soldier a better target by raising him, terrified, a few feet above the ground, very noisily and at great expense...
I have not laughed this hard in a while. Thank you.
posted by griphus at 6:16 PM on June 1, 2016 [33 favorites]


I love all things Weird Airplane. Check this bad boy out while you at it: the Belphegor. Jet powered cropduster for vast Soviet farms.
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 6:25 PM on June 1, 2016 [10 favorites]


When the Goblin fails to make the top ten, you know they must be real stinkers.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:25 PM on June 1, 2016 [3 favorites]


Valsparred, of course!
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 6:38 PM on June 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


a...nuclear reactor?
posted by juv3nal at 6:43 PM on June 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


I feel compelled to include eriko's epic description of Lockheed’s F-104 Starfighter.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 6:47 PM on June 1, 2016 [4 favorites]


What could go wrong with a three megawatt reactor on an airplane?
posted by octothorpe at 6:47 PM on June 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


a...nuclear reactor?

You really don't want to know about Project Pluto, the nuclear powered cruise missile. "After delivering all its warheads, the missile could then spend weeks flying over populated areas at low altitudes, causing tremendous ground damage with its shock wave. When it finally lost enough power to fly, and crash-landed, the engine would have a good chance of spewing deadly radiation for months to come."
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 6:49 PM on June 1, 2016 [15 favorites]


The Rockwell XFV-12 looks like it's in the process of shitting out its engine.
posted by dephlogisticated at 7:05 PM on June 1, 2016 [9 favorites]


I'll always pour one out for the Avro Arrow. Melon farming oppressive US policy.
posted by a halcyon day at 7:08 PM on June 1, 2016 [5 favorites]


Palate cleanser.
posted by vrakatar at 7:11 PM on June 1, 2016 [13 favorites]


Aww man, I missed one: The 11 worst X-planes

Palate cleanser.


Pshh, this post is not about success!
posted by T.D. Strange at 7:16 PM on June 1, 2016 [5 favorites]


Refreshing myself on the Goblin led me to the general fascinating area of parasite fighters. Enjoying this thread a lot...
posted by blahblahblah at 7:23 PM on June 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


Ctrl+F "F-35"
...
NOT FOUND
posted by indubitable at 7:32 PM on June 1, 2016 [11 favorites]


They must have broken even on the Goblin, at least. There's always a kid wanting to put more quarters in the one outside the Kroger.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:35 PM on June 1, 2016 [7 favorites]


Convair NB-36: The nuclear-powered plane...jeez. Reminds me of the nuclear-powered cruise ship I toured as a kid, the Savannah.

It would be nice to dismiss nuclear power as a passing fad...
posted by kozad at 7:55 PM on June 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


Palate cleanser

In 1990, the SR-71 Blackbird celebrated its retirement by flying from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. in one hour and four minutes.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:09 PM on June 1, 2016 [10 favorites]


The De Lackner DH-4 Heli-Vector is one of the most hilariously terrifying things I've ever seen.
posted by teponaztli at 8:11 PM on June 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's easy to look back at these things and laugh, but the reason we know they're useless is because they were tried. It's not so simple looking forward in a lot of cases to know that something won't work.

The last one in that article (the "Bullet") obviously was idiotic, but a fair number of those seemed plausible when they were proposed.

Likewise, we look back at some of the early planes built between 1910 and 1915 and some of them seem totally preposterous, like the one that looked like a biplane except it had about 10 layers of wings. The only reason we know it doesn't work is because it didn't work. The people designing aircraft in that period didn't know what an airplane was supposed to look like.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:18 PM on June 1, 2016 [17 favorites]


the missile could then spend weeks flying over populated areas at low altitudes, causing tremendous ground damage with its shock wave.

Possibly the most ridiculous war-fighting idea I've ever heard. Truly spectacular. I can't even imagine what this would be like.
posted by kiltedtaco at 8:22 PM on June 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


What could go wrong with a three megawatt reactor on an airplane?

It would have somehow worked and convinced people to keep the Flying Fukushima going.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 8:35 PM on June 1, 2016 [2 favorites]


"The Flying Fukushima" is totally my new wrestling move.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 8:40 PM on June 1, 2016 [19 favorites]


Smoke me a kipper...
posted by arcticseal at 9:41 PM on June 1, 2016 [5 favorites]


Hey now, I strenuously object to putting the Convair NB-36 on that list. The NB-36 was simply a modified B-36 Peacemaker which happened to be carrying a nuclear reactor. The nuclear reactor was essentially cargo, it wasn't powering the aircraft. The fact that you don't like the cargo doesn't make a B-36 Peacemaker a bad plane!

I could put a Nickelback CD into a P-51 Mustang. Does that make a P-51 Mustang the worst aircraft of all time? I would argue no.
posted by Justinian at 10:04 PM on June 1, 2016 [9 favorites]


Here's a youtube which shows helicopter design experiments beginning about 1920 through the mid 1940's showing how the designs improved as the result of each experiment, especially the failures.

There were serious issues to be dealt with. One problem was torque from the prop, which if not handled well would cause the aircraft body to spin the opposite direction. The early solution was to use two props, spinning in opposite directions so that their torque cancelled one another. They tried mounting them on the ends of spars; they tried making them coaxial, and they managed to make it work both ways, but it wasn't very satisfactory.

Steering and pitch control were also serious problems. If you didn't get that right, the helicopter would oscillate back and forth, and eventually crash. That was eventually solved, too, and someone came up with the idea of having only one central prop and a side-ways pointing fan on the end of a spar to counter the torque.

And in the late 1930's, Igor Sikorsky put it all together in the VS-300, which is the first helicopter that looks modern. It set all kinds of records (altitude, flight time) and everyone working on the problem sat up and took notice at how well it worked, which is why most choppers after that time follow the same basic pattern as the VS-300.

But not all. The Boeing Chinook used two main props front-and-back. And the Soviet Mil V-12 went with two large props side-by-side.

Sometimes the only way to find things out is to try them to see if they work. When they don't, it's easy to laugh at them. But this was a fundamentally difficult problem, and the solution wasn't obvious.

I guess the reason this post bothers me is that I'm an engineer and I'm a bit offended by people who don't understand that some problems are really difficult and the solutions are not at all obvious -- until after the fact, when someone gets it right. After the VS-300, it was obvious that this was how you built a helicopter but it sure wasn't obvious ten years before that.

Engineers can't be afraid of failure. And neither can those who fund them. There's a reason that DARPA finances some really strange research projects: they've learned this lesson.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:08 PM on June 1, 2016 [42 favorites]


I thought the Gee Bee was de rigeur for these stories? That was my favorite deathplane in my youth.
posted by rhizome at 10:42 PM on June 1, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yes, Justinian, I'm afraid it does.
posted by evilDoug at 10:47 PM on June 1, 2016 [4 favorites]


I'll just leave this here.
posted by pjern at 10:48 PM on June 1, 2016 [2 favorites]


As a kid modelmaker, I loved the design of the Cutlass- it looked Terry Anderson-ish to me. I was so disappointed to find out it was an awful plane.
posted by happyroach at 11:32 PM on June 1, 2016


You might enjoy this episode of Junkyard Wars the teams had two days to build a powered airplane using only 1900 era tools. They all more or less flew, some better than others.

I did not get to do anything nearly this cool when I was on the show.
posted by boilermonster at 11:52 PM on June 1, 2016 [5 favorites]


>>the missile could then spend weeks flying over populated areas at low altitudes, causing tremendous ground damage with its shock wave.

>Possibly the most ridiculous war-fighting idea I've ever heard. Truly spectacular. I can't even imagine what this would be like.

No one said scorching the earth was easy.
posted by mosk at 11:58 PM on June 1, 2016 [2 favorites]




Check this bad boy out while you at it: the Belphegor. Jet powered cropduster for vast Soviet farms.

Huh, I didn't know the USSR employed Enki Bilal as an aircraft designer.
posted by Dr Dracator at 1:52 AM on June 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


‘We think it is inadvisable to land the airplane.’ They came back with one paragraph that said ‘We agree.'”

BRB, looking for the same clickbait writer snarking about how Falcon 9 cannot possibly work.

Huh, I didn't know the USSR employed Enki Bilal as an aircraft designer.

It's a Polish design, even. And you might have the who was inspired by whom bit backwards :-)
posted by effbot at 3:33 AM on June 2, 2016


The parasite fighters linked above made me think of the spaceship toys I used to have.
So I went and looked them up, only to discover that the one I was thinking of is in fact called
The Shadow Parasite
Neat!
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:38 AM on June 2, 2016


It's a Polish design, even.

Ordered by the USSR, delivered with a shrug. "Here's the jet cropduster you said you wanted. We'd rather use the M-18 but whatever."
posted by hat_eater at 3:48 AM on June 2, 2016


In addition to giggling over the Heli-Vector this morning, I also enjoyed reading about the 10 worst British military aircraft. Anyone who wants to know what it was like to fly some of these babies could do worse than find a library or secondhand copy of World War II ferry pilot Hugh Bergel's Fly and Deliver. His account of trying to coax a Blackburn Botha from A to B is especially chilling.
posted by Sonny Jim at 3:50 AM on June 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


Chocolate Pickle: "The last one in that article (the "Bullet") obviously was idiotic, but a fair number of those seemed plausible when they were proposed."

A lot of the linked designs failed not necessarily because of a flaw in the concept but because one or more of the project management, the engineering, the material science or the computing power wasn't ready.

EG: both the Rockwell XFV-12 and the Convair XFY-1 ‘Pogo’ are listed as having poor engine choice contributing to their failure.

Vectored thrust was already a proven concept by the time the XFV-12 was rolled out and the Convair XFY-1 ‘Pogo’ landing problem is the kind of thing that could be easily handled by modern avionics.
posted by Mitheral at 3:57 AM on June 2, 2016


It's interesting to contrast the 10 worst US Aircraft page with the 11 worst Soviet aircraft one. Maybe it's a matter of different writting styles, but in the US page the reason for failure seems to be mostly the insane out-there concepts (and/or military-industrial complex graft), while in the Soviet case it's more pedestrian reasons like poor engineering or underpowered engines.
posted by Dr Dracator at 4:04 AM on June 2, 2016


Might that be related to information availability?

Perhaps the truly insane... uh.. innovative soviet craft were never seen outside the research lab?
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 4:34 AM on June 2, 2016 [3 favorites]


"prudence-crushingly rich"

What a wonderful phrase.
posted by Emma May Smith at 4:38 AM on June 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


I did not get to do anything nearly this cool when I was on the show.

boilermonster, have you told this story already? I'm curious about what you did get to do.
posted by Songdog at 5:18 AM on June 2, 2016 [4 favorites]


Ctrl+F "F-35"
...
NOT FOUND


Actually, it's actually there.

"From a purely aeronautical point of view there is nothing wrong with the VH-71 Kestrel, yet it is not in service and as an example of eye-watering cost overruns it is without parallel, and that’s including the F-35 programme."
posted by disconnect at 6:25 AM on June 2, 2016


Love this stuff, thanks.
posted by Splunge at 7:37 AM on June 2, 2016


hahaha we wasted trillions of dollars . hohohho it is to larf
posted by lalochezia at 8:22 AM on June 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


Songdog, I have not posted about this, but here is the episode "Off Road Golf" I'm the tall one on the green team.
posted by boilermonster at 8:47 AM on June 2, 2016


That Rockwell XVF-12 is the Lincoln Continental Mark IV of the skies. Except I think the Lincoln caught more air.
posted by scruss at 8:49 AM on June 2, 2016


I'll always pour one out for the Avro Arrow. Melon farming oppressive US policy.

It was certainly a very pretty airplane, but it's always seemed to me that the reality of a service aircraft would have a hard time living up to its mythology. I mean, it would have been basically contemporaneous with the F-4 and Lightning, and maybe a little higher-performance than either, but nothing night-and-day different. And all the interceptors in the west were put to shame a few years later when the MiG-25 started melting its own engines.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:12 AM on June 2, 2016


Perhaps the truly insane... uh.. innovative soviet craft were never seen outside the research lab?

My guess would be that a more bureaucratic, resource-constrained system wasn't very prone to investing in long shots - except when orders came from the top that it _must_ work, which gets you things like the Kalinin or the Soviet Concord.
posted by Dr Dracator at 9:12 AM on June 2, 2016


Airacuda

The plane designed and named by...your dad!
posted by Hoopo at 10:23 AM on June 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


Undeterred, unrepentant and un-prosecuted Christmas built a new Bullet. It took off, the wings twisted and folded, and the Bullet crashed, killing its pilot. At least this time his mother wasn’t present.

So many good lines.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:27 AM on June 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


I know jack-all about aviation but am surprised to see no mention of the Osprey.
posted by HeroZero at 12:18 PM on June 2, 2016


"Christmas Built a Bullet" would be a good book title.
posted by rhizome at 12:19 PM on June 2, 2016


Ospreys are like a Hawker Harrier thing, right? They sort of work and don't usually kill people, but they're really only good for bragging and airshows.
posted by rhizome at 12:21 PM on June 2, 2016


> Ospreys are like a Hawker Harrier thing, right? They sort of work and don't usually kill people, but they're really only good for bragging and airshows.

Say what? Sea Harrier had a Kill:Loss Ratio of 21:0 in air-to-air combat during the Falklands War (2 were lost to ground fire and 2 more to a mid-air collision). F/A-18s have a ratio of 2:1. That's a pretty long way from "only good for bragging and airshows".
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 1:34 PM on June 2, 2016 [4 favorites]


I recently read James Hamilton-Patterson's Empire of the Clouds, an excellent book about the brilliance and incompetence of the British aero industry in the post-war period. I would seriously recommend it for anyone who enjoys this kind of nostalgic schadenfreude.
posted by stanf at 2:56 PM on June 2, 2016


I love all things Weird Airplane. Check this bad boy out while you at it: the Belphegor. Jet powered cropduster for vast Soviet farms.

This legitimately looks like a ship from Cowboy Bebop, holy crap. I actually looked realy closely to see if it was a render or a drawing.

I think i'm in love
posted by emptythought at 4:08 PM on June 2, 2016


It looks like a Micronauts ship.
posted by rhizome at 7:01 PM on June 2, 2016


That Rockwell XVF-12 is the Lincoln Continental Mark IV of the skies. Except I think the Lincoln caught more air.

No THIS is the Lincoln Continental of the skies, and it does pretty much what you would expect.
posted by boilermonster at 10:27 PM on June 2, 2016 [2 favorites]


That was incredible.
posted by rhizome at 12:53 AM on June 3, 2016


Thanks, boilermaker; I enjoyed that. The time constraints on that show just seem impossible to me.
posted by Songdog at 5:51 AM on June 3, 2016


No THIS is the Lincoln Continental of the skies

For the curious, here's a full-length documentary about that project, The Devil at Your Heels (wiki), courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada.
posted by effbot at 3:34 PM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


The current record, I think, is "only" 101m/332ft set by Tanner Foust.
posted by Mitheral at 5:13 PM on June 3, 2016


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