10 US Military Aircraft That Never Quite Made It

Sunday, 6 June 2010

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Over the years the USA has developed many formidable aircraft.  However, there were many that didn’t ever get far from the drawing board for a variety of reasons.  

Some were simply before their time while others were of no time in particular (or perhaps shouldn’t have been).  

Others still look like they were designed for a science fiction movie.  Take a look at ten US military aircraft that never quite made it.

X-13 Vertijet

In 1947 the US Navy awarded the Ryan Company a contract to see whether or not a fighter plane would take off vertically and the result was ultimately the X-13, after the Air Force took over the project in 1943.  The ultimate aim at the beginning was to evaluate whether or not submarine based aircraft would be feasible and it is easy to imagine this beauty leaping from the seas.  Later still, once the Air Force became involved the aim was to develop a jet powered VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) aircraft.

It did indeed make a vertical take-off, transitioned to horizontal flight and back again in 1957. It was then demonstrated in Washington DC where it crossed the Potomac River, coming to rest at the Pentagon.  Unfortunately the Air Force chose not to develop the Ryan X-13 Vertijet any further because there was a lack of operational requirement.

HZ-1 Aerocycle

Reconnaissance is important in the field and the US Army wanted, in the 1950s, to have a simple personal helicopter that could be operated by pilots with limited flight experience and with a small amount of instruction.

It was seen as a potential motorcycle of the air and, certainly, the early tests showed quite a lot of promise.

However, once further studies had been conducted it was discovered that the HZ-1 was too difficult to control in untrained hands.

This was further evidence when on test flights the contraption crashed twice.  The project was cancelled. (Image Credit)

F2Y Sea Dart

Only a prototype for the Convair F2Y Sea Dart was ever made, but you can see where perhaps the inspiration for Thunderbird 4 came from.  It does hold one record, despite its short-lived life – it is the only seaplane to ever go faster than the speed of sound.  The seaplane was a result of a 1948 competition by the US Navy for a supersonic interceptor aircraft.

In November 1954 the Sea Dart disintegrated in mid-air during a demonstration for the Navy and the media, killing its test pilot.  That was the end of that, but the Navy had been losing interest anyway as problems with supersonic fighters on aircraft carriers had been solved and the Sea Dart had outlived its potential and use.

Northrop YB-49

You would be forgiven for thinking that the above flying wing heavy bomber was developed in the 1980s or 90s.  In fact, the YB-49 was designed and constructed just after the Second World War.  It was passed over for a much more conventional design from Convair, the B-36. 

The first prototype suffered massive engine failure and the second came down in 1948, killing its pilot (Captain Glen Edwards, after whom Edwards Air Force Base is named).  The aircraft suffered structural failure and the outer wing sections became detached from the center section, effectively putting paid to the program.

There is quite a neat coda attached to the aborted project.  In 1980 the owner of the company, Jack Northrop, elderly and wheelchair bound, was taken back to where the company was founded.  There he was taken to a top secret area and shown a model of the Air Force’s plans for their new Advanced Technology Bomber, the B-2A.  It was a flying wing.  Northrop is said to have exclaimed I know why God has kept me alive for the past 25 years.

XC-120 Packplane

We have already seen Thunderbird 4, so here is a glimpse of the real life Thunderbird 2.    It was quite unique when developed and flown for the first time in 1950 as it has a removable cargo pod.  This huge pod was positioned below the fuselage and was intended to make the loading of cargo much quicker – the pod could be removed, a new one placed in and the plane would be ready for take off again.

The aircraft was tested extensively and made appearances at a number of air shows in the 1950s.  However it was eventually scrapped for more traditional cargo carrying models.

XF-85 Goblin

The Goblin was conceived during the Second World War and was designed to be a plane within a plane.  The intention was for the Goblin (nicknamed the Flying Egg) to be carried in the bomb bay of the enormous Convair B-36.  Its duty was to act as a defender – a parasite fighter – which would be dropped from the bomb bay of the mother ship in times of need and could harry enemy fighters while the B-36 went on its way.

All in all a really cool idea, however, the project was soon scrapped.  The reason for its cancellation is almost mundanely obvious.  The US Air Force decided that aerial refuelling was a much safer way to extend the range of its fighters.

Republic XF-103 Thunderwarrior

The Thunderwarrior was developed at the beginning of the cold war and was the response to the need to develop a high speed interceptor to destroy soviet bombers.  Thunderbird 1 anybody?  The Thunderwarrior never passed the mock up stage, however.   Work on the prototype was continuously delayed by engine problems.  The nose of the aircraft was completely taken up by enormous radar set which offered (for the time) very long ranges of detection.  Its missiles were carried in bays on the side of the fuselage and they would be released through the bay flipping yup and effectively rotating the missiles out of the bays. The project was finally cancelled in 1957.


A-12 Avenger II

The Avenger II still manages to look futuristic and it was part of a program from McDonnell Douglas and General Dynamics.  It was intended to be based on aircraft carriers and would act as an all weather stealth bomber.

The project was however, way too expensive and it was cancelled in 1991.

The flying wing concept was back in vogue by the nineties and the Avenger was in the shape of an isosceles triangle with the cockpit at its apex. The internal weapons bay would carry smart bomns and other air-to-ground ordnance.  Perhaps not unsurprisingly the A-12 gained the nickname the Flying Dorito. (image Credit)

Convair XFY Pogo

The Pogo was an experiment in vertical takeoff and landing and was known as a tailsitter. It launched and landed on its tail.  Due to standing on its tail it was designed to be able to operate from small warships.  Take off was fine, although the problems really came with the landing.  The pilot had to look over his shoulder to judge the distance between the plane and the ground while at the same time working the throttle to ease the plane down to its landing position.

Technical problems such as this aside, had they persisted it would have meant that only the most experienced pilots could have flown the Pogo and so putting one on every small warship would not have been feasible.  However, with only half the speed of contemporary jet engine fighters which were at the time approaching Mach 2, the project was put on hiatus in 1954.

Lockheed YF-12


We will finish with one that was successful – well, almost. The Lockheed YF-12 was a prototype interceptor which spawned the SR-71 Blackbird.  However, despite breaking all sorts of records during testing, including a speed record of 2,070.101 mph (3,331.505 km/h) and altitude record of 80,257.86 ft (24,462.6 m), both on 1 May 1965, the program ended in 1968.  One word says it all – Vietnam.  At the time defense of continental USA was less of a priority and so the project was shelved.

However, there is a happy ending for the Lockheed YF-12.  They continued flying for many years with the USAF and with NASA in the role of research aircraft.

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