Sunday, June 14, 2009

Ten Worst airplanes

By Chuck Squatriglia
July 7, 2008
In the 105 years since the Wright Brothers took to the air, dreamers, engineers and aviation buffs have designed every kind of airplane imaginable in a never-ending quest to fly higher, faster or further. Some were innovative, some were beautiful and some even made history. Others, well, let's just say they must have looked good on paper.
Here's a tribute to the 10 worst ever that surely looked better on paper. (Photos below).

Tupolev TU- 144

1.The Concorde gets all the love, but Russia's Tupolev TU-144 was the first supersonic transport and the only commercial plane to exceed Mach 2. The "Concordski" was fast but plagued by bad luck. Three crashes -- including a dramatic mid-air breakup during the 1973 Paris Air Show -- relegated it largely to a lifetime delivering mail. It was mothballed in 1985 but briefly brought back a few years later as a research plane.

B.O.A.C de Havilland Comet

2.The Comet was the premiere commercial jet airliner and a landmark in British aeronautics when it first flew in 1949. Today it's better known for its atrocious safety record. Of the 114 Comets built, 13 were involved in fatal accidents, most of them attributed to design flaws and metal fatigue.

Hughes H-4 Hercules
3.The “Spruce Goose” was either a brilliant aircraft years ahead of its time or the biggest government boondoggle ever. By far the largest aircraft ever conceived -- its wingspan was 319 feet -- the Spruce Goose was intended to be a military transport plane. But it wasn't finished until well after World War II ended, rendering it both obsolete and irrelevant. It only flew once.

LWS-4 Zubr

4.The Polish Zubr was as useless as it was ugly. Not only was it incapable of flying with the landing gear retracted, the airframe was so highly stressed the plane could disintegrate without warning. If that wasn't enough, it couldn't take off with a payload much heavier than a few cartons of cigarettes. The Polish Air Force had a few in its fleet during World War II, but none of them saw combat.

Christmas Bullet

5.Cool name, lousy plane. Dr. William Christmas didn't know the first thing about planes when he designed one for the U.S. Army Signal Corps, and it showed. He didn't think the plane needed wing struts, so of course they fell off during the plane's maiden flight in 1918.

Beechcraft Starship
6.With its carbon-composite construction, unique design and rearward-facing turboprop engines, the Starship was a groundbreaking aircraft. But it was slow, difficult to fly and a bear to maintain. It took to the air in 1989, but Beechcraft only sold a few of the 53 it built.

Hiller VZ-1
7.The Hiller VZ-1 hovercraft must have looked good on paper, because it sure didn't look good in the air. The idea was simple -- a fan provides lift and the pilot steers by shifting his weight. The Defense Department loved it until it saw the Pawnee in flight. It was good for just 16 mph and it tended to be uncontrollable. The project was killed in the late 1950s.

A-12 Avenger II
8.Defense Department projects are famous for cost overruns, and General Dynamic’s flying wing bomber was a doozy. The Flying Dorito was the most troubled of the stealth aircraft projects the Pentagon embraced during the 1980s, experiencing problems with its radar systems and use of composite materials. When the projected cost of each plane ballooned to $165 million, a Secretary of Defense named Dick Cheney killed it in 1991.

Royal Aircraft B.E.2
9.With its anemic engine, poor maneuverability and gunner blocking the pilot's view, the British B.E. 2 was doomed from the start. German pilots had no problem shooting them down during the First World War, making it just about useless as a fighter. It had no problems against German Zeppelins, though, so the plane lived out its days attacking them instead.

Boeing XB 15
10.The XB 15 was the largest plane ever built in the United States until the Spruce Goose came along. The heavy bomber was so massive it had passageways in the wings and bunks for the crew. But big planes need big engines and no one made one big enough to give the XB any kind of speed for its maiden flight in 1937. The plane maxed out at 200 mph, and the U.S. Army Air Corps killed the project. The only XB ever built saw duty as a cargo plane in the Caribbean during World War II.


  1. Vintage Airliners: A Collection of Vintage Photographs has a great picture of the B.O.A.C de Havilland Comet designer, first test pilot and engine designer. In the photo in the book there is also the British jet fighter used to test along with the Comet. The photos were taken before the accidents began to occur.

  2. The Comet a trailblazing design considerably ahead of the competition does not deserve to be on this list, the crashes were all caused by metal fatigue cracks propogatng from the large rectangular picture windows designed before this phenomenon was understood and when the research was done (and given freely to the world) the windows were modified to small round ones and the plane became completely safe and reliable and carried on with the RAFas the Nimrod into the 1990s unfortunately it couldn't shake its bad rep and this enabled competitors to get a foothold in the market on the back of the DeHavilland metal fatigue research.