7) SNECMA Coléoptère (1959) –
An experimental VTOL aircraft designed by French company SNECMA, the oddball looking contraption was envisaged as a single-pilot aircraft that totally eschewed the need for an expansive runway to either take-off or land. To that end, its vertical flight direction was regulated by utilizing the pneumatic deflection of the jet exhaust.
However, in spite of such progressive design considerations, the Coléoptère (or ‘Beetle’ in French) was never successful, mainly because of the aircraft’s instability that made its flight dangerous to say the least.
8) Avro Canada VZ-9 Avrocar (1959) –
This is arguably closest thing to a ‘flying saucer’ ever made by humankind. Experimental through and through, the exceptional flying machine was conceived as a part of a secret project by the United States during the advent of the Cold War. The design was developed to take advantage of the so-called Coandă effect that would allow the aircraft to have lift and thrust from a single exhaust, thus being similar to VTOL.
Originally, envisaged as fighter plane, the plans were subsequently dropped in favor of a high-performance helicopter. But the achieved figures were not at all flattering with the Avro’s capability limited to just 3 ft of flight altitude and 35 mph of top speed – all of these being a result of low-performance flight envelope.
9) Aero Spacelines Pregnant Guppy (1962) –
Built for the singular purpose of endowing more cargo space, the Aero Spacelines Pregnant Guppy aptly fulfilled its role by carrying the massive NASA equipment required for the Apollo missions to moon. The humongous planes with their respective 38 ft heights were also instrumental in ferrying the components of the Gemini program’s Titan II to Cape Canaveral.
In the following years, the Pregnant Guppy gave way to the Super Guppy – an even more spacious and larger variant that was conceived as a part of NASA’s recommendation. Sadly, the cargo planes were scrapped in 1979 after the reduction of large scale operations conducted by the American space organization.
10) Piasecki VZ-8 Airgeep (1962) –
Yes sirree, a flying jeep! Another oddball flying contraption envisioned for the US army, the VZ-8 Airgeep was contrived as a fascinating prototype of a VTOL aircraft. The project was not hatched for a combat helicopter, but rather for a troop carrying aerial vehicle that could zip over otherwise impassable terrains.
Incredibly enough, the VZ-8 Airgeep successfully passed its testing phase with the ability to glide to soaring heights of 914 m (or 3,007 ft) and also the capacity to fly just over ground to avoid radar detection. But unfortunately, the core concept was deemed unfeasible for a modern army, and thus the quirky endeavor was dropped in favor of conventional helicopters.
11) Bell X-22 (1966) –
Developed by United States as a V/STOL research aircraft, the Bell X-22 had the wondrous ability to takeoff either in a vertical fashion with its massive propellers turned upwards, or in a 45 degrees angle with the corresponding tilt of the nacelles. Interestingly, the initial test runs were quite successful – which led to the renewed focus on the then-unique abilities of VTOL and V/STOL, rather than the aircraft design itself.
However, the X-22 finally led to the commercial variant of the V-22 Osprey aircraft, while its ducted fan propeller mechanism was also replicated in the contemporary 5th generation combat plane of F-35B from Lockheed Martin.
12) Bartini Beriev VVA-14 (1972) –
Beyond its bulbous credentials, the Bartini Beriev VVA-14 was developed by Soviet Union as a feasible vertical take-off amphibious aircraft that could maintain its speed even over long distances. The boisterous design was the brainchild of Italian designer extra-extraordinaire Robert Ludvigovich Bartini.
Originally conceived as an anti-vehicle for Polaris missile submarines, the project unceremoniously fizzled out after the death of Bartini. Still the aircraft had 107 flights with a total time spend in air going over 103 hours.
13) Northrop Grumman X-47A Pegasus (2003) –
Conceived as an Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle, the X-47A Pegasus was envisaged as an advanced craft with its anti-corrosion skin, automated command and control systems and the ability to function even in an highly electromagnetic environment. Such ‘reactive’ features are tailored for those precision reconnaissance missions that are used for identifying the high priority targets during the aerial attack waves.
This prototype finally gave way to the X-47B, which was chosen by the US Navy as a part of its Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator (UCAS-D) program in 2011. The selected aircraft is touted to have 0.95 Mach speed and wingspan of 62 ft.
14) Lockheed Martin P-791 (2006) –
What might look like a futuristic version of a zeppelin, was actually Lockheed Martin’s ambitious plan for a hybrid airship. This ‘hybrid’ quality comes from the combination of an aerostatic (buoyant) lift and an aerodynamic lift.
The airship was envisioned as a part of U.S. Army’s Long Endurance Multi-intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) program. But it eventually lost out to the similar looking Northrop Grumman HAV-3 (a flying machine that also holds the record for the world longest aircraft at a whopping 302 ft). Anyhow, the P-791 is still being developed in its new avatar as a civil cargo plan christened as SkyTug.