These days, taking a flight is no big deal for most people. Whether for business or pleasure, we put a lot of trust in the aircraft that we choose to get us to our destination. But over the last hundred years or so, you wouldn't believe what people have put their faith in when it comes to flying. Aviation designers have been trying to send us through the sky in all sorts of fabulous flying machines. From the outrageous to the completely impractical, here are 25 of the world's weirdest airplanes that were lucky to even leave the ground!
The World’s Weirdest Airplanes That Were Lucky to Leave the GroundPublished 1 month ago
No prizes for guessing where this plane got its nickname from! With its bloated appearance and fish-like features, the pregnant Guppy was the only model ever made, and it flew from 1962 to 1977 for 15 years. And while it looks bulky and cumbersome, this plane was used by NASA during the Apollo lunar program to transport cargo. Its maximum loaded weight capacity was 141,000 pounds, and its top flying speed was 320 miles per hour.
Not only did the Pregnant Guppy successfully transport NASA's oversized freight items, but it also served as an inspiration for future aircraft like the Boeing Dreamlifter.
The Hughes H-4 Hercules earned its nickname, "The Spruce Goose," thanks to its enormous wingspan and the fact that it was made completely from wood. You see, this plane was built during World War II when aluminum and other metals were hard to find. It made its maiden flight in 1947, becoming the world's largest passenger aircraft. It was a seaplane, and it had the capacity to carry 700 people.
While the Hughes H-4 Hercules was six times bigger than any other aircraft at the time, it only managed to fly once, in Long Beach, California, on the 2nd of November 1947.
Thanks to its unusual rectangular design, the Northrop Tacit Blue was unlike any other aircraft design. Created by the American Air Force in 1982, the Tacit Blue earned itself nicknames like the Whale and the Alien School Bus. Built for low-flying surveillance undetectable by radar while on enemy lines, it was regarded as the world's top technology at the time. It weighed 30,000 lbs and had a top speed of 290 mph.
Despite being reported by pilots as being very difficult to handle, the Tacit Blue completed 135 missions and over 250 hours in the air without incident.
The Kalinin K-7 plane earned its nickname for pretty obvious reasons. Upon completion, this frightening flying machine quickly became known as the Russian Flying Fortress thanks to its enormous tank-like appearance. Designed in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, the Kalinin K-7 had a wingspan of more than 170 feet. It's hard to believe that this monstrosity could ever get off the ground, but on August 11, 1933, it did.
With its six tractor engines up front and a single engine in the back, the K-7's top speed was 140 miles per hour. It was capable of transporting 112 fully armed paratroopers.
The Vought XF5U airplane looked like a giant stingray and was used by the U.S. Navy during World War II. It has a wingspan of more than 32 feet, a top speed of 550 mph, and an astonishing maximum takeoff weight of around 18,780 lbs. This aircraft, dubbed "the flying pancake," only required one pilot and had the capacity to carry four 20-mm cannons, six 0.50 machine guns, and two 1000-pound bombs.
It had vibration issues that plagued it right up until the end, but it was so solid and well-built that it required a wrecking ball to break it down.
The Boeing 747 Large Cargo Freighter, as it is formally known, is a wide-body freighter aircraft with the longest cargo loader in the world. Despite the fact that only four were ever produced, the company continues to rely on them to transport airplane components from manufacturers all over the world. The Dreamlifter is a modified version of the Boeing 747-400, a relatively recent aircraft. The first one was constructed in 2006.
The 747 Large Cargo Freighter is over 235 feet long, it has a top speed of 545 mph, and a wing span of 211 feet.
It is hard to believe that planes like the Super Guppy could even leave the ground due to their enormous size and unusual shape, but they do. With a wingspan of more than 150 feet and a length of over 144 feet, the Super Guppy was the only plane large enough to aid in the Apollo program. In fact, it played a crucial role by carrying the complete third section of the Saturn V rocket, the S-IVB stage.
The Super Guppy has a maximum takeoff weight of more than 170,000 pounds, can travel at 290 miles per hour, and is still in use today.
The Airbus A300-600ST, also known as the "Beluga" due to its whale-like features, is a version of the Airbus A300-600 wide-body aircraft. It first took to the skies in the fall of 1994, and now it transports assembled Airbus parts that are unusually sized or shaped to various locations around Europe at the rate of about 60 flights each week. Despite its unusual appearance, the Beluga is a fully functioning and dependable aircraft.
The Airbus A300-600ST can carry an incredible 340,000 pounds at takeoff, has a wingspan of more than 184 feet, and is taller than 56 feet.
With its disc-like form, the Horten Ho 229 was a German fighter/bomber jet introduced at the end of World War II. It was built specifically to avoid detection by radar and was the first flying wing to be propelled by jet engines. Although it only flew as a prototype and never saw combat, it was a single-pilot airplane that measured more than 24 feet in length and had a wingspan of more than 55 feet.
The Horten Ho 229 could reach altitudes of 4,300 feet per minute and travel at speeds of over 600 miles per hour. Its smooth surfaces made it less visible to radar.
The Rutan Model 202 Boomerang is a multi-engine aircraft developed to prevent loss of control in the event of engine failure. This is because the aircraft has asymmetric thrust from each of its engines. This unique-looking aircraft features two fuselages and wings that point forward. Despite its outlandish appearance, the Boomerang's asymmetrical shape makes it more aerodynamic. The five-seater light twin was designed solely for private usage and can carry up to five people.
The Rutan Model 202 Boomerang is an exceptionally rare form of private aircraft that can travel 1,900 miles at a speed of 300 mph.
The Lockheed Martin P-791 may look pretty weird, but it is an eco-friendly plane that can cover more ground while using less fuel. This hybrid airship can land practically anywhere and uses only a tenth as much fuel per ton as a helicopter. That's why its creators think it can eventually replace jeeps and trucks for transporting goods and passengers to locations far from airports, making it ideal for use in underdeveloped regions.
The developers of the Lockheed Martin P-791 claim that this aircraft is faster and cheaper than traditional modes of transportation, such as roads and ships.
The Edgley Optica is a strange-looking plane that was made as a cheaper alternative to helicopters, combining low-speed missions with high observation. The plane has been dubbed "Bug Eye" due to its unusual appearance. Nonetheless, it has a 270-degree field of view and nearly vertical downward vision thanks to its peculiar layout. The shape of the cockpit canopy also makes it possible to take pictures through the glass, making it perfect for land surveillance projects.
While this little plane can only fit the pilot and one other passenger, it is the world's quietest powered aircraft. Improved visibility is its main selling point.
Alexander Martin Lippisch joined Zeppelin after World War I, where he came across the concept of a wingless aircraft and developed an interest in it. But it wasn't until Dornier, a rival of Boeing's during World War II, collaborated with Lippisch that the vision became a reality. The Aerodyne was an unmanned aircraft designed for the German Federal Ministry of Defense. The craft took off, landed vertically, and had its maiden voyage in 1972.
Lippisch and his crew built it to be a UAV used for spying from the sky. Due to a lack of government support, the Aerodyne was decommissioned in 1972.
In the 1980s, Northrop Grumman produced the X-29, a plane that appeared to have a back-to-front design. It was the first of its kind and experimented with cutting-edge aviation innovations, including forward-sweeping wings. The Air Force and NASA both flew missions in the X-29. The X-29 stood out because of its innovative three-surface design, but with only two being built in the mid-1980s, both were decommissioned in 1991 due to aerodynamic instability.
The forward-swept wing designs of the aircraft were seen as being so hazardous that sophisticated computer systems were required for the aircraft to be operational.
The XF-85 Goblin was built during WWII as a parasite fighter but barely survived as a prototype. Its unusual shape meant that it could be launched from the bomb bay of a Convair B-36. The Goblin would defend bombers like the B-36 from opposing forces' interceptor aircraft, a role that the Allies sorely required during WWII. The Goblin was promising throughout the design phase, but no one could deny it was inferior to the jet fighters it would face in battle.
McDonnell developed two prototypes before the US Air Force halted the project. The program's high cost of $33.2 million led to its cancellation.
The Caproni Ca.60 Transaereo was an early design for a massive boat-plane with nine wings. This aircraft was supposed to carry a hundred passengers across the Atlantic, but Caproni produced only one. During World War I, his business gained notoriety for its huge, multi-engine bombers. Caproni, though just 27 years old, shifted his focus from military to civilian aircraft when World War I concluded. The Ca.60 has the same number of engines as a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress and three sets of triple wings.
After it was completed in 1921, the Ca.60 was destroyed in an accident shortly after takeoff. Two museums in Italy now showcase the retrieved parts.
The NASA AD-1 was the name of both an airplane and a flight test program developed by NASA and Ames Industrial Co.'s Burt Rutan. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the AD-1 underwent a series of flight tests. The AD-1 was one of a kind because its wing could rotate zero to 60 degrees while in flight. During its 42-flight research program, the plane performed well and provided NASA with all the data it required.
The production of the AD-1 set NASA back $240,000 at that time. The small, jet-powered, subsonic research craft demonstrated that a craft with pivoting wings could fly.
Spectators of the Nemeth Parasol said it looked like a "flying umbrella" or a "saucer plane" as it soared through the air. When you take a look at the Nemeth, it's hard to deny that they were designed to make people believe aliens were touching down. In 1934, the first test flight of the Nemeth was conducted. Despite its sleek appearance, the Nemeth was never mass-produced because its design was too impractical.
The prototype tail-dragging plane was the brainchild of Steven Nemeth from Ohio. He took his inspiration from planes like the WWI F.E.2 fighter jet and the Douglas DC-3.
The Convair F27 Sea Dart was developed in the 1950s as a solution to the problems that supersonic jets encountered while taking off and landing on aircraft carriers. Whether taking off or landing, the seaplane fighter craft Sea Dart rode on twin hydro-skis. The Sea Dart was only ever a concept craft. Due to disappointing test results, Convair never intended to mass-produce the Sea Dart. Pilot Charles Richbourg tragically perished in a collision as a result.
In the middle of a flight, Charles Richbourg's Sea Dart exploded. Afterward, the other Sea Darts were decommissioned, and the entire project was scrapped as a result.
Lockheed Corporation constructed a tailsitter prototype known as the Lockheed XFV (also known as "The Salmon") due to its fish-like features. In the early 1950s, the firm constructed the Salmon to show how a VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) fighter could be used to defend convoys. The U.S. Navy was the major target market for the Salmon, which made its first voyage on June 16, 1954. A 5,332-horsepower turboprop powered the XFV.
Due to its awkward look, staff at Lockheed jokingly referred to the aircraft as a "pogo stick." The Salmon prototype was unsuccessful and eventually scrapped.
The Hiller X-18 was a prototype plane that was supposed to carry supplies. The X-18 was the first aircraft to test vertical takeoff and landing technology, and it was built and designed by Stanley Hiller Jr. of Hiller Aircraft. It demonstrated the importance of cross-shafting engines in order to maintain control in the event of an engine failure. Second, it demonstrated the necessity of direct control of the propeller pitch for such aircraft.
While much was learned from a research point of view, the X-18 in question would be the last of its kind before the program was canceled in 1964.
There were just two test models of this peculiar plane. The VVA-14 was a vertical takeoff and landing amphibious aircraft developed by Robert Bartini. The Soviet Union commissioned Bartini to design and Beriev to build a wing-in-ground-effect aircraft. The VVA-14 was developed to have the capabilities of both high-speed flight over great distances and water takeoff. The VVA-14 would fly slightly above the water's surface to make use of the aerodynamic ground effect.
The VVA-14 was made because the Soviet Union asked for planes that could destroy a Polaris missile submarine from the U.S. Navy. In the late 1980s, the last remaining VVA-14 was decommissioned.
The experimental heavy bomber, the Northrop XB-35, was designed and built for the US Air Force after WWII. The flying wing design utilized by the XB-35 was not only revolutionary for its day but also had the potential to be very efficient. With this layout, there was no fuselage or rear portion at all. Instead, the heavy wing was responsible for transporting all cargo. The concept was intriguing to the US Air Force.
In 1946, the price tag for the flying wing program was $66 million. That is equivalent to $881.31 billion in current dollars. I hope it was worth it!
The Taylor Aerocar, also known as the Aerocar International Aerocar, was a roadworthy aircraft. The Taylor Aerocar was created in 1949 by Moulton Taylor of Longview, Washington. Six cars were manufactured, but the automobile was never mass-produced. The Aerocar was essentially an ordinary car with wings that allowed it to fly. These automobiles had a peak speed of 110 mph in the air and could reach 60 mph on the road.
The wings and tail were pulled behind the vehicle, and the propeller was attached to the back end. Taylor's idea for the Aerocar didn't work out because he couldn't find 500 buyers.
Dr. Paul MacCready was an aviation engineer, and his Gossamer Albatross won the Kremer Prize, a monetary award for outstanding achievement. The human-powered aircraft features long, tapering wings, akin to a glider, allowing it to fly with very little power. This craft has a gross weight of only 220 pounds. The Wright Brothers' Wright Flyer allegedly served as inspiration for Dr. MacCready, who added pedals to his aircraft's enormous, twin-bladed propeller.
The Albatross was created in collaboration with MacCready's business, AeroVironment, and it successfully crossed the English Channel on June 12, 1979. What an incredible achievement!