The 11 worst X-planes

Eleven  bad choices.  The fact that an aircraft doesn’t work as intended doesn’t mean that you don’t learn something. Frankly this cold have mentioned stuff like the Avrocar which never got more than a foot off the ground and other turkeys that just didn’t work.

Hush-Kit

334914main_ECN-30043_3x4_1600-1200.jpgWhen music is terrible the artist will often describe it as ‘experimental’ to avoid criticism, the same is often true of prototypes and experimental aircraft. Given the parade of ludicrous machinery that test pilots were required to fly, the long career of Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown is all the more remarkable. Test pilots deserve everyone’s respect.

11. SNECMA C.450 Coléoptère

‘Roll out the le barrel’

300px-SNECMA_Coléoptère_on_ramp_1959The ‘Beetle’ was based on an idea that would be politely referred to as unorthodox, and never looked like actually working. It barely had any features that weren’t radical – a VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) jet designed to sit on its tail and transition to level flight courtesy of an annular wing, making Thunderbird 1 look conventional. It resembled an eel sticking its head out of a sunken galleon’s cannon.

A few vertical flights were made but on the first tentative attempt…

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5 comments

  1. Madoc · March 9, 2016

    John,

    Holy frack! What a wretched hack job piece of trash article! Hushkit is usually much better than this.

    Damning those research aircraft because they were research aircraft? Seriously? What part of “exploring the unknown” did the writer not understand? A big part of research is discovering what DOESN’T work. And we don’t make advances unless we accept that risk of “failure.”

    The Coléoptère was one of many VTOL research aircraft which discovered that flight control technology hadn’t caught up with engine power so as to make landings a practical thing. If researchers hadn’t been willing to take such a risk then we’d never have gotten the Harrier.

    The Supermarine 508/525 accomplished its design goals – and in the process demonstrated that the cushioned landing concept was too flawed to be worth pursuing. And damning the design’s “straight wings” as being wrong? Did the writer ever look at the F-104 Starfighter?

    The Sea Dart accomplished its design goals as well. It was a very wise thing to see if we could develop a capable fighter plane for naval use that did not require any huge aircraft carriers to operate from. That there was a crash which killed its pilot was unfortunate but plenty of other prototype aircraft also suffered such losses.

    I’ve no idea what the Qaher F-313 is doing on Hushkit’s list but its presence there further enforces the bullshit nature of the entire article.

    The Stipa-Caproni was built to determine the operation efficiency of that ducted fan layout. And it worked. That “X-plane” demonstrated what it was supposed to demonstrate – how efficient such a layout would be on an actual aircraft. The result? Not very. Thus is a good thing to know before committing resources to building anything else of that layout.

    The Bristol 188 was let down by its engines and not the design of the aircraft itself. This would hardly be the first time in history that an ambitious research program would be hobble by its chosen powerplant’s failing to meet its called for power. That’s nothing to damn the 188 over.

    Even the article itself admits that it was once again the engines which were the culprit as they hobbled yet another X-plane, the Stiletto.

    You could make some degree of a case against the DFS 346, but not much of one. The aerodynamics of swept wing aircraft were an unknown so it’s not surprising that the initial attempts had handling problems. That’s why you build research aircraft to learn about them and thus make the regular production aircraft safer.

    Same same with the Bell X-5. A high speed variable geometry aircraft offered some huge advantages – and presented some severe risks in its flight controls and aerodynamics. Which is why you make an X-plane to learn about them.

    Damning the Republic XF-84H for being a “shabbily run programme?” Where the hell does the author get that crap? What is he basing it on? The results of the basic research into the unknown? That the first ever supersonic propeller produced debilitating noise? That the Allison T40’s were an extremely problematic engine which hobbled plenty of other aircraft? None of which is the fault of the X-plane’s design and the performance issues were exactly the point of building the thing to see what would happen.

    And then there’s the Bullet. This is what truly set me off about this wretched piece of crap article. Christmas rightly deserves damnation for his conning the Army over his aeronautical expertise and his design’s inadequacies leading two men to their deaths.

    But the picture used is NOT of the Bullet. Rather, that’s the Dayton-Wright Racer! That aircraft was a huge advance in airplane technology. It was one of the very first airplanes in the world to use retractable landing gear. It also featured a variable camber wing with front slats and full span flaps that was years ahead of its time.

    The whole article seems likely written by someone with only a cursory knowledge of aeronautical history and an overabundance of snarkiness who figures that the fanboys on the other side of the computer screen won’t be able to tell just how poor the piece is.

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    • jccarlton · March 9, 2016

      I changed my comment Madoc. You’re actually right about most of this. I can think of quite a few early VTOL aircraft that couldn’t transition, or were outright dangerous on landing because you had to land them vertically. As for the Sea Dart, the reason the development wasn’t followed up and nothing to do with aircraft and a lot to do with the fact that the navy discovered that with catapults they could indeed operate jets from carriers. As for the Bullet, I’d never heard of it before this.

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      • Madoc · March 9, 2016

        John,

        Damning research aircraft for being research aircraft is pretty damn stupid and insulting. The whole point of an “X-plane” or prototype or technology demonstrator is to explore the unknown. And that exploration means taking a risk of failure. But that too is part of the process of increasing our knowledge about the universe and everything in it.

        Those “X-planes” were all conceived to explore different things and see if the theories held up in the real world. And they all either did their job splendidly in that requirement or were let down by things entirely outside of the design team’s control. The Stiletto was put together to test out a number of high speed flight technologies and yet the engines it needed to power it simply didn’t live up to their called for thrust. Now, does that make the plane’s design a “turkey?” Same same with the Bristol 188 – and with a horde of other aircraft throughout the 1940s and 50s as jet engine technology was still developing.

        As part of that problem with those early jets was their relative low thrust. So, anything that could be done to lighten an aircraft was deemed a good thing. The landing gear systems on airplanes are pretty damn heavy things and don’t do anything to help the plane once in flight. The idea of coming up with some method of safely landing the aircraft and thus dispensing with the weight and complexity and cost of the landing gear system was an attractive one. So, building the Supermarine 508 to test that out was a good and worthwhile thing. And when the concept proved a poor choice it then made sense to see if the aircraft’s basic design could be adapted for conventional use. That too was a worthy attempt as if it could it meant the money spent on it to research that cushioned landing concept would not be an entire loss as an operational machine could be derived from it. Well, it turned out that, no, for a variety of other reasons, it couldn’t. Does that make the 508 a “lousy X-plane?”

        The Sea Dart concept had a lot going for it. Carriers are big ‘n juicy targets and they’re also damn difficult to hide. Coming up with a cutting edge high speed jet fighter that didn’t need a carrier or a runway to operate from was thus a very attractive concept for the US Navy. Hence the effort put into the design and testing of that concept. Yeah, one crashed – spectacularly – and killed its pilot. Do you know how many other prototype aircraft also crashed and killed their pilots? Oh, and the Sea Dart was not truly an “X-plane” it was a prototype of an operational fighter design and not some purely experimental machine that was designed and created with no intent of going into series production.

        What the hell the Qaher F-313 is doing on that list is beyond me. That thing has never even flown and the Iranians declared it an operational fighter and not some “X-plane” either.

        That bit about the Christmas Bullet however, really irked me. The reason the Bullet was such an appalling disaster was that Christmas hadn’t a clue about aircraft design and thought that a highly flexible airframe was a good idea. The wings of the Bullet were so flexible that they almost flapped even when the plane was simply taxiing on the ground. Once up in the air the damn things folded up and wrapped themselves around the fuselage like wet toilet paper. And the bastard got away with doing this TWICE as the second Bullet was just as stupidly structurally unsound as the first.

        Which makes the use of the Dayton-Wright Racer image with TWELVE guys standing on its wings even more of a base glaring error. Nevermind that the Bullet was a biplane while the DWR was a monoplane.

        All of which makes it painfully apparent that the guy who wrote that article on Hushkit really doesn’t understand the purpose of “X-planes” and thought that sneering was a substitute for comprehension.

        Oh, and he obviously doesn’t like this being pointed out as he deleted my same comments when I posted them on his site.

        Like

      • jccarlton · March 9, 2016

        When you mention how many prototypes killed their pilots, that wall at Panchos outside Edwards comes to mind. Moving forward on flight means that aircraft are going to prang and crews will be lost. It’s part of the game.

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  2. jccarlton · March 9, 2016

    Found the real idiot:
    http://www.fiddlersgreen.net/models/aircraft/Christmas-Bullet.html
    How anybody could believe that the Dayton Wright racer was a rebuilt Christmas Bullet is beyond me. The only thing they shared was the power plant, which isn’t that big a surprise as Liberties were the engines that were available in the 1920’s because there were so many of them that nobody made anything else until the late 1920’s.

    Like

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