Ask any 6-year-old kid to draw an airplane, and he can do it -- it's a couple of wings and a couple of fins attached to a long thing in the middle. The engines are either on the wings, or stuck to the fuselage. Even the most space-age fighter aircraft don't stray far from that template.
But aircraft designers can think outside the box just like everybody else. And what's most surprising of all is that all of the insane designs below actually flew, with varying degrees of success.
#8. De Lackner HZ-1 Aerocycle
Oh, bullshit. That thing looks less plausible than 80 percent of Inspector Gadget's inventory. But yes, it was real, and yes, it flew.
In the 1950s, the American soldier needed to get across a battlefield, but also needed to avoid things like mines, which vehicles have a nasty habit of detonating. The aerocycle seemed perfect for the job, regardless of how stupid it looked. It was basically an open air, stand-up helicopter crossed with a Segway.
It looks like something Johnny Quest should be riding.
And we didn't just throw out that Segway comparison at random -- operators would steer this contraption by "shifting their weight." Oh, and it was amphibious, too. Amazingly, things looked great in development, with Army brass saying the aerocycle was the modern equivalent of cavalry horses. And while having a battalion of flying soldiers riding open, whirling blades into battle sounds awesome, it was sadly not meant to be.
On the plus side, the fate of this aerocycle's pilot lead to the invention of salsa.
They started testing untrained men on the aerocycle prototypes, figuring the intuitive controls would be like riding a bike. And it actually was like riding a bike, in that you have to crash a bunch before you finally figure it out (it didn't help that the craft would pitch wildly in windy conditions). Even testing for the device's parachute went badly. Out of the dozen built, only one survived until the end of the project in 1957. And you know what? We still kind of want one.
This thing was made for beer and aquatic Frisbee golf.
#7. Hafner Rotabuggy
In 1943, the Brits needed two things: a way to get vehicles quickly out of firefights, and a way to deploy vehicles so they aren't an easy target. British engineers thought, You would need a Jeep-like helicopter to do that! Thus, the Hafner Rotabuggy was born.
No, we didn't just run an old G.I. Joe cartoon through a black and white filter.
Despite an outlandish design that was eccentric even by British standards, testing went fairly well with both the flying and driving aspects (despite problems like difficulty flying in high-wind speeds and, we imagine, the temptation to turn on the rotors while on the ground to try to plow through enemy infantry like a lawnmower). Hafner was just about to score a major contract in late 1944, but other more conventional aircraft soon proved to be much better for carrying armored vehicles than, say, a ridiculous flying Jeep. The contract was canceled, but the Rotabuggy lives on in museums, and in the dreams of every reader who is right now imagining chopping their way through a zombie apocalypse in one of them.
When you get bored, you just fly away.
#6. Goodyear Inflatoplane
It's rare for the words "durable" and "inflatable" to wind up in the same product description with any kind of honesty. Yet, when the U.S. Army needed some inexpensive new ways to make rescue aircraft, they decided to give the inflatable inflatoplane a chance in 1955.
"Who wouldn't trust their life to a plane that could be crippled by a thumbtack?"
Made of a rubber and nylon mix, the plane took only about five minutes to inflate, and could fly as fast as 72 mph.
"We have too many pilots, and we can't afford to pay pensions for all of them."
But the Army kind of knew things were off when they saw it only took three months to design and build the thing (normal planes usually go through years of research and development alone). They soon figured out that refueling was a nightmare, as fabric does not usually make an ideal gas tank. Also, it could only take an additional load of 240 pounds, which meant bad news for the overweight soul hoping to be rescued. Testing was also a nightmare, especially when the aircraft banked slightly and the wings would fall off.
While the dozen or so built somehow did make a few successful rescues, the accidents and overall ridiculousness of the design outweighed any benefit. After the Army's official position comically stated in 1960 that there was no "valid military use for an aircraft that could be brought down by a well-aimed bow and arrow," the project would be canceled in 1962.
Word got out that the Russians were training anti-aircraft mosquitoes.
#5. Vought XF5U
What, you thought planes needed wings to fly? You owe the XF5U an apology, buddy.
During World War II, the U.S. Navy was fighting in the Pacific and needed planes that could save on fuel but also fly extremely fast, regardless of how fucking ridiculous they looked. That led to the XF5U -- a disc-shaped plane that looked like a UFO (and in fact got reported as such during test flights), nicknamed "the flying flapjack."
Two of them were built, and testing somehow went pretty well. Innovations in the propellers reduced drag, making the plane much more efficient. But the Navy then decided to switch to jet-powered planes just after the war, dooming the propeller-driven XF5U and its highly unconventional design. When it came time to destroy the prototype, the thing was so solidly built they had to use a wrecking ball ... and the first two strikes didn't even leave a dent in it.
Couldn't the government recoup its development costs by selling old experimental planes to super-villains?