6 Iconic Pieces of Military Tech (That Secretly Sucked)
Some war machines are instantly recognizable, even to the most passive of pacifists. That's because history has told us that these weapons have essentially won entire wars, sometimes almost single-handedly. But if you take a closer look at some of the machines we've been fervently drawing on our Trapper Keepers during study hall, you might find them hiding a ludicrous Achilles heel, such as ...
The F-14 Tomcat Really Could Stall Out Like In Top Gun
It really takes only two words to describe the Grumman F-14 Tomcat: Top Gun. Who could possibly forget this iconic scene?
Oh! Whoops. How did that get there? We certainly didn't mean to imply that the shirtless Tom Cruise volleyball scene was the one thing from Top Gun that is permanently, tenderly etched into our memories. Haha.
Etched like those abs ...
Anyway! The hot F-14 swing-wing action displayed in Top Gun inspired an entire generation of adolescent boys to pursue a career intercepting Russkies in pitched air-to-air battles, or at the very least run around making whooshing noises with their arms stuck out like wings until such behavior began resulting in really uncomfortable looks from everyone at the office.
The Ridiculous Flaw:
As it turns out, what is arguably history's single most iconic fighter jet was likely to leave you stranded alongside the highway, embarrassingly thumbing your way to the Danger Zone. Remember that scene in Top Gun in which Maverick flies through Iceman's jetwash, causing his own engines to stall out?
Well, that scene wasn't just a bunch of Hollywood balderdash hyped up for dramatic effect -- it was a fairly accurate representation of a major design flaw of the F-14. An interruption in the air flow coming into the engines caused the fan blades to stop pushing air through them, which in turn caused a "flameout." Jetwash could certainly cause such an interruption, so if a Soviet pilot was aware of this vulnerability and wanted to take down an F-14 pilot, he could conceivably do so by pulling the aerial equivalent of cutting him off in traffic.
Sadly, Goose from Top Gun wasn't the only casualty resulting from this: Here in the real world, Kara S. Hultgreen, the Navy's first female combat pilot cleared for carrier operations, was killed when her F-14 experienced a flameout and crashed into the ocean in 1994.
Damn. We'll understand if you need to scroll up and watch that volleyball scene again before we continue.
The Corsair, Designed To Land On Aircraft Carriers, Couldn't Land On Aircraft Carriers
Quick, imagine a World War II American fighter plane. You might not know the name, but you probably pictured the Chance Vought F4U Corsair, one of the meanest, toughest planes ever to rip through wartime skies. Instantly recognizable from its iconic gull wings and able to take a vicious beating and outmaneuver anything the Japanese could toss into the air, the Corsair was one of the best carrier-borne airplanes ever built ...
The Ridiculous Flaw:
... except that, once it took off from an aircraft carrier, landing back onto one was nigh on impossible. If the aircraft didn't stall out and plop into the ocean before making contact with the carrier, any attempt to land would send it bouncing around like a Super Ball, careening across the deck or flipping over entirely.
No amount of "I meant to do that" is convincing in this situation.
So, just to reiterate: The Corsair, a plane conceived with the specific intention of operating from U.S. aircraft carriers, was unable to operate from U.S. aircraft carriers.
The resulting cost in new flight deck crew uniforms alone was astronomical.
But if the Corsair was so crappy at its original purpose, how did it even survive long enough to be remembered as the WWII plane? The answer to that is likely the fliers of VMA-214, better remembered as the Black Sheep Squadron. The Black Sheep were Marine aviators famous for delivering whistling death to scores of Japanese fighters. Oh, and they operated from land bases. With long runways, no arresting wires, and the close proximity of Navy nurses, the Corsair was free to bounce and buck as much as it damn well pleased. Still, the Corsair fully embodied the phrase "You had ONE job ..."
Early P-51 Mustangs Were A Carbon Copy Of Enemy Fighters
The North American P-51 Mustang is arguably still one of the greatest fighter planes ever built. A perfect balance of speed, armament, and long-range capabilities made it an invaluable asset during WWII. Probably the only thing that could have made it any better is if it didn't get regularly shot down by friendly fire.
The Ridiculous Flaw:
Before the distinctive bubble canopy of the "D" model Mustang set it apart, pilots of the A, B, and C models had to deal with the fact that they bore a striking resemblance to the German Messerschmitt Bf 109 and the Japanese Kawasaki Ki-61. (Spoiler: The Germans and the Japanese were our enemies during WWII.)
Plus, it didn't help that everything was black-and-white back then.
Not only did Mustang pilots have a strong likelihood of getting a fuselage full of American-issue bullets and flak, but there were recorded instances of enemy pilots pulling up alongside a Mustang thinking it was one of theirs. That's the fighter pilot equivalent of that awkward moment when you wave to someone who looks like your friend but is in fact a stranger (who wants very badly to murder you).
The Me 262's Greatest Flaw Was Adolf Hitler
With the Me 262, the Nazis brought a friggin' rocketship to a prop-plane fight. To the Allies, it looked like the Nazis had ripped something straight out of a comic book and made it reality, and to the Nazis, it looked like they had finally created the tool that would allow the Third Reich to regain dominance over Europe's skies.
Too bad there was one tiny, squeaky cog in the production process.
Pictured: One tiny, squeaky cog.
The Ridiculous Flaw:
When Willy Messerschmitt first presented the design of his shiny new wonderplane to seine fuhrer, Hitler exclaimed that it was the elusive weapon he had long been pining for -- a one-size-fits-all plane capable of not only slicing enemy bombers out of the sky but also bombing the shit out of enemy fortifications. So he declared that the Me 262 was to be a fighter-bomber.
That's like buying a Ferrari Enzo and bolting a goddamn snowplow onto it.
"Dude, at this point we can't even count how many things you're compensating for."
So Messerschmitt went to town on his design, trying to figure out where in the hell to strap bombs on a plane that was strictly designed as an ultra-maneuverable fighter. This introduced severe delays in the jet's production and gave Allied Bomber Command ample time to pummel the German countryside.
By early 1945, Hitler had pulled just enough of his head out of his ass to realize that the Reich desperately needed Me 262s in the air for their original purpose: a straight fighter and bomber interceptor. So the Germans hastily armed it with badass 30mm cannons and sent the plane to rain death on Allied bomb runs ... at least until said cannons jammed mid-flight. See, jets are stupidly fast things, and the force of those high-speed turns puts stress on more than just the pilot's innards. The guns were added in such haste that the designers didn't realize they couldn't handle the stress being put on them. The simple act of turning in the Me 262 could cause the gun belts to snap and jam the guns, turning the plane into a paperweight. A very fast-flying paperweight, but still.
Pictured: What happens when your fighter jet can't fight.
The M4 Sherman Tank Was A Giant, Weaponized Cigarette Lighter
The M4 Sherman Tank was perhaps the pinnacle of America's Arsenal of Democracy during WWII. The Sherman was the Chevy Caprice of tanks in its heyday: not too fancy but capable of striking fear into the hearts of countless evildoers. Of course, thanks to one particular tendency of the M4, it might be more appropriate to call it the Ford Pinto of tanks instead.
"At least the Pinto had A/C."
The Ridiculous Flaw:
The Sherman had a penchant for lighting up like a Roman candle dipped in kerosene whenever it was hit. Unlike its German and British counterparts, the Sherman employed thin armor in order to squeeze more speed out of its Detroit engines. While this meant it could get itself out of trouble quicker than it got into it, it also meant that a direct hit likely spelled death for the proud American machine.
Seriously, there are more photos of these things on fire than there are of them not on fire.
If the crew of the tank wasn't killed outright by a shell penetrating the hull, whoever was left had only minutes to scamper out before the resulting fire reached the fuel and ammunition and things took a turn for the irrevocably fucked. The tanks were so likely to go up in flames that the British nicknamed them "Ronsons," after a brand of cigarette lighter whose motto was "lights every time."
Yep, seems appropriate.
The B-29 Superfortress Was One Big Incendiary Device
The Boeing B-29 Superfortress will forever be remembered as the plane that leveled Japan. More streamlined than its older brother, the B-17 Flying Fortress, while also able to reach higher altitudes and achieve a longer range, many regard the B-29 as the true achievement of bomber perfection.
This pin-up art is about to become disturbingly appropriate.
The Ridiculous Flaw:
For all its power and symbolism, the B-29 was born out of cost-cutting measures. "Hap" Arnold, head of U.S. Bomber Command, wanted the plane so achingly bad that he was willing to cut a few corners in order to get Congress to greenlight the project. One of the ways costs and weight were cut was via the use of magnesium alloy components in the engines. And if you paid any attention at all in high school chemistry, the one thing you know about magnesium is that it burns hotter than Satan's anus after an all-you-can-eat wing night.
Those aren't bombs dropping out of those planes.
Take an engine built from flammable components -- one that's already prone to fantastically overheating -- and toss it into the overbearing heat of the Pacific Theater, and you've just mixed up a recipe for disaster. Even worse, the fire-extinguishing system that was put in place to handle the inevitable engine fires failed 87 percent of the time. The first production run of 96 planes had only 16 that were determined safe to fly, presumably thanks to a single mechanic with questionable eyesight.
"Yeah, yeah, pass, whatever. I got pin-up art to masturbate to."
So why does the B-29 still hold onto its near-mythical status? Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The B-29 was the only U.S. plane burly enough to carry our atomic bombs to Japan. That's right: We shoved history's two most devastating weapons into a delivery vehicle widely known for its tendency to spontaneously burn to fucking cinders.
And that, boys and girls, is what we call good planning.
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