Watching a jet soar through the sky never gets old as an experience. The seemingly amazing and fantastic wonders of engineering have some bad eggs as well. What follows is a list of 10 worst jets to have ever taken off. We sure are glad that we have F-16s and other amazing jets to look at in wonder instead of these.
10. Vought F7U Cutlass
Vought was acquired by Northrop Grumman, however, before that happened it was the producer of some of the US Navy’s best known and most successful fighter jets. In fact, during WWII, Vought designed the F4U Corsair that served in the Pacific theater and during the Vietnam War. US Naval aviation made use of Vought’s F-8 Crusader. Between these successful jets, Vought is also credited with some very unusual aircraft among which the F7U Cutlass enjoys the top position. It was designed in an attempt to modernize the US Navy, however, it went on to become a dangerous and unreliable airplane that took a number of pilots down with it owing to accidents and crashes. The design completely did away with the tail control surfaces by imparting a swept-wing design that was inspired by wartime Messerschmitt experimental fighters. It was fast indeed, but had trouble staying aloft in a number of flight regimes not to mention it had severe issues with its engines. It was powered by early Westinghouse turbojets – pilots joked that Westinghouse toasters sported more power than Cutlass engines. The first three prototypes and the first two units delivered to US Navy crashed, however, it still went into full production. A total of 320 units went into service out which about 1/4th were lost due to accidents and the plane earned nicknames such as ‘The Gutlass Cutlass’ and ‘The Ensign Eliminator’.
9. PZL M-15
PZL M-15 was designed by the Polish and qualified as one of the strangest looking jets that ever made it to production. It is also the only biplane that was mass-produced and also the only jet crop duster to have served. Back in the 70’s Soviets wanted to replace the agricultural fleet of aging biplane crop dusters with something that was able to spray large collective farms while being economical. Since the Soviet farms used the Polish agricultural planes, the responsibility was taken up by the PZL. It was also required that the new airplane should incorporate a jet engine – something that had not been attempted so far. PZL came up with a test plane to see if this idea was feasible and later on concluded that with the right mix of aerodynamics, the plane was able to fly at 100 mph with a top speed of only 124 mph. Upon entering service, it was the slowest jet ever produced and made such a noise that the engineers named it ‘Belphegor’ after the noisy demon from Christian mythology. The plane however was a disaster; it consumed way more fuel than the old crop dusters. It was faster than those old crop dusters but not by much. PZL had delivered only 175 out of a total order of 3,000 before the Soviets pulled the plug on the project.
8. Yakovlev Yak-38
Harrier Jump Jet upon its entry in the British Naval service showcased the advantages of having a Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) fighter on the force. Soviet Union designed their own unique fighter however their creation, Yak-38 by Yakovlev design bureau, turned out to be a disaster. The only thing that the team managed to achieve was a resemblance to the original Harrier. It made use of a different lift jet system where two small thrust vector jets were installed at the end of fuselage and two lift jets were incorporated behind the cockpit. It ended up consuming a lot more of fuel and had a combat range of only 1,300 kilometers without any weapons. The flight time during hot weather was reduced to 15 minutes only and thus rendered as a useless fleet interceptor. Apart from all these failures, it also featured only four weapon pylons thus leaving pilots with almost next to nothing when it came to armament. It didn’t feature any radar apart from a very basic range finder in order to save weight. The lift jets had a life of 22 hours only and required a complete overhaul after this time period. Yakovlev, in an attempt to minimize the casualties, incorporated an automatic ejection seat that would come into play when the plan rolled more than 60 degrees to either side during landing or takeoff.
The sound barrier was broken in 1947 by Chuck Yeager in X-1 and this led to opening up of the door of myriad of possibilities. The era that followed saw a lot of jets being pushed for faster speeds. A number of these jets failed, however, the Flaming Pencil also known by its official name, Bristol 188, was a spectacular disappointment. It featured a stainless steel fuselage and was meant to break the Mach 2 speeds and lead a road for the next gen of British fighters. RAF commanders wanted the Flaming Pencil to spend most part of its flight at Mach 2. Bristol built the plane with the modern techniques of that time and had the most powerful engines incorporated into it. It sported quite a number of problems; the fuel tanks would leak not to mention that flying such a long and narrow plane was an endeavor in itself. It had a takeoff speed of 300 mph and thus required quite a long runway. It also failed to reach the speed of Mach 2 and the despite the engineers coming up with a number of solutions, the RAF – after sinking £20 million in the project – pulled the plug on it.
6. McDonnell XF-85 Goblin
Air powers for years have tried to create parasite fighters – a bomber carrying small fighter planes that would be detachable once it reached enemy’s territory and take on intercepting planes before docking with the mothership again. The only effective one was the Soviet Zveno system that was used in World War II. US Air Force tried their luck with the XF-85 Goblin, however, it failed. It was a strange plane that featured only the most essential things in order to reduce weight. This left the plane with only the most basic flight controls and avionics. Goblin was carried aloft by a modified B-29 bomber during the test-phase. The airplane despite being highly stable, lacked the necessary firepower and performance capabilities that would be crucial for it to be successful at what it was intended to do. The docking with mothership also proved to be impossible and the XF-85 didn’t sport any landing gear as well. As expected, the project was canceled.
Germany was leading the jet-powered aviation during World War II, however, its destruction during war left Germany with a late start at post-war aviation. It was in 1956 that German aircraft designers began working on a jet airliner of their own. East German engineers that worked for Junker Company formerly came up with the Baade 152 airliner. It was based on a number of bomber concepts that the team had been working on in the late 40’s, however, the high-wing design along with unusual center-line landing gear featuring outrigger wheels on the wing tips left little space for passengers. During the second test flight, the prototype was lost in a crash resulting in the death of the entire crew. For the second prototype, some radical changes were incorporated; redoing the landing gear configuration along with changes in engine fairing. The crew discovered, following three flights, that upon steep descent the fuel lines failed and the engines ceased to run. East Germany dropped the project in 1961.
4. Tupolev Tu-144
The 1960s and 70s were all about supersonic airliners. The French and British came up with the Concorde while the Soviets created the Tu-144. When compared together, the Tu-144 was the inferior plane. It flew two months before the Concorde took flight. It featured a lot of problems. The first passenger prototype ended in a crash at the 1973 Paris Air Show. However, the Soviets still went on with the project and began commercial service. Engineers discovered following a few flights that two airframes were close to complete structural failure while the others were also showcasing low reliability. During some flights, 22 out of 24 main systems had failed and the Soviet authorities limited the number of people onboard to 70-80 in case of any occurrence of a crash. The Soviets sought help from Western airspace companies for fixing the issues. After carrying out only 50 commercial flights, the Aeroflot stopped the passenger service and it was assigned to cargo transport. Following another 50 flights, it grounded all of the airframes. NASA, however, bought a Tu-144 to be used as a test vehicle for supersonic airliner research and that’s the only time that this plane was useful.
3. Dassault Balzac V And Mirage III V
This was French’s attempt at making a VTOL fighter. Instead of creating a new plane, they decided to modify the successful Mirage III fighter by incorporating lift jet engines into it. The seemingly good idea on paper resulted in a disaster when it was executed. Dassault modified one of the original Mirage III prototypes by making use of 8 lift jet engines. It was named Balzac V and had a promising start where it transitioned from vertical takeoff to horizontal flight in March 1963. A few months later, however, during landing it flipped over and killed the test pilot. Dassault rebuilt the prototype and testing continued and in 1965 an American pilot on exchange carried out a test flight but lost his life when the lift engines cut out and he was not able to eject successfully. The project continued with the purpose-built Mirage III V – a standard Mirage III airframe with lift engines – but again, despite its promising start where it completed flights achieving Mach 2 and taking off and landing successfully. This prototype crashed as well, pilot survived though, and that’s when Dassault finally let go of the project.
2. De Havilland Comet
Enter Comet airliner by De Havilland in 1949. The UK was really excited about this amazing new jet-powered airliner that had been designed using the cutting-edge technology. However, the Comet turned out to be an example of how to not design a jet-powered airliner. The slight oversight by engineers tainted the project and took lives of a dozen of passengers. The first Comet accident took place in 1952 when a British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) flight was not able to take off and ended up running off the end of the runway. No passengers died in this accident, however, a similar accident in 1953 took place in Pakistan where the airplane met an embankment after running off of the runway that resulted in the death of all 11 persons on board. Another accident took place in India and claimed 43 lives. Comet’s production finally ceased in 1954 following two other accidents; a BOAC flight that experienced an explosive midair decompression (35 deaths) and a Comet crashing in the Mediterranean (23 deaths). Investigations revealed that the square windows for the passengers were the flaw since they were subjected to severe fatigue at high speeds thus causing the fuselage’s buckling.
The final entry on the list is the Rolls-Royce Thrust Measuring Rig also known as ‘Flying Bedstead’. This plane was designed to assess the feasibility of VTOL aircraft. Basically, it is only two jet engines that have been affixed to a small frame. The plane had no stability whatsoever and Rolls-Royce didn’t incorporate any wings, control surfaces or fuselage. The jet engines employed the use of thrust vectoring and since the early engines didn’t have a good throttle response, therefore, quick changes to engine’s thrust were almost impossible and the pilot had to anticipate in advance when and where he would have to move for the engines to crank up that power in time. The early tests were carried out while the plane was tethered and later untethered tests began where in 1957 it rolled over and killed the pilot. The project was ceased and other options were explored.
Honourable Mention. Russian Flying Fortress