Do You Know These Aviation Flops & Failures?


By: Steven Symes

6 Min Quiz

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About This Quiz

It seems like since the dawn of time mankind has watched birds effortlessly fly through the air, dreaming of doing the same thing. Unfortunately, many of the early attempts at flight involved would-be aviators copying bird anatomy far too literally. That involved plenty of flapping wings, feathers glued to bodies, and even headgear shaped like bird heads. That might seem strange today, but before the Wright Brothers, nobody really knew how to get people up in the sky, other than using a hot air balloon. 

Likely slowing down aviation efforts were cautionary tales from various religions and cultures about the dangers, both moral and physical, of attempting to fly. One of the oldest is Icarus, a story from Greek mythology. Icarus and his father attempt to escape Crete using wings made out of wax and feathers. Emboldened by his sudden flight capabilities and ignoring his father's warnings, Icarus flies close to the sun. The rest is history. 

There are plenty of failed attempts at flight, both before and after the Wright Brothers' success. How much do you know about them? Take the quiz and find out! 

How many wing slats did Horatio Phillips' multiplane craft contain?

After running tests in a rudimentary wind tunnel, Phillips became convinced the more wings the better. This resulted in an airplane that looked like privacy blinds and didn't fly.


What was the cause of Delta Airlines Flight 191 crashing?

After seven years of research done by NASA and the FAA, all airplanes were required to have a wind shear detection radar to avoid such an incident.


What method did Al-Djawhari use to attempt flight?

This Turkish scholar attempted flight in about 1000 A.D. by jumping off the roof of a mosque in Nisabur, Arabia. Instead of flying, he fell to his death.


Airplanes from what two companies collided mid-air, touching off a big upgrade in air traffic control?

Back in the late 1950s, these two airliners collided in mid-air, causing the United States to spend $250 million upgrading its air traffic control system nationwide.


What was the big drawback of the Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet?

This rocket-powered fighter was faster than any other plane in WWII, but it ran out of fuel in just eight minutes. Also, the T-Stoff oxidizing agent for the fuel combusted if it contacted leather or clothing, making refueling extremely dangerous.


What was the gimmick for failed airline Smintair?

The airline was announced in 2006, but the German financier who marched boldly ahead with the plan couldn't get enough funding, so it never became a reality.


What means of propulsion did William Henson use for his failed airplane design?

The Aerial Steam Carriage was patented in 1843. It featured a fixed single wing, plus a structural design similar to modern airplanes, but it never flew.


What was the result of Joao Torto's failed flight attempt?

Torto, a Portuguese inventor, created cloth wings and a helmet shaped like an eagle's head. Unfortunately, he fell straight to the ground after jumping off a cathedral tower.


What training efforts were fueled by the crash of Air France 447?

The Airbus A330-200 had a fly-by-wire system that failed. The pilots lacked proper training to fly the plane manually, leading it to crash into the ocean, killing everyone aboard.


What was the major risk of ejecting out of the Heinkel He 162?

This wooden but highly aerodynamic plane was flown by teenage pilots with minimal training toward the end of WWII. In addition, the glue used ate through the wood.


What was the ultimate issue that brought United Airlines Flight 173 to the ground before the runway?

The DC-8 experienced landing gear problems and circled in the air for too long. The captain ignored the flight engineer's warnings that the fuel was almost depleted, and the plane crashed in a Portland suburb.


What claim to fame did Silverjet have before it failed?

In 2008, after two years of operating, Silverjet's fleet of three airplanes was permanently grounded. It was based at London's Luton Airport.


What was the biggest weakpoint of the MiG-23?

This fighter, which was the staple of the Warsaw Pact, had a cramped cockpit pilots hated. Visibility was horrible, plus the plane wasn't very maneuverable.


What originally touched off the series of horrific events leading to the crash of United Airlines Flight 232?

The rear engine failure severed the hydraulic lines for the plane, giving the pilot almost no control. Amazingly, only 111 of the 296 aboard perished in the catastrophic crash.


What was the big weakness in the Havilland Comet?

The world's first jet airliner was advanced in many ways, but the square windows placed too much stress on the plane's frame, causing several to break up at altitude.


What brought down John Stringfellow's experimental airplane?

The aircraft ran on a sloping wire for 33 feet, and in testing it supposedly was climbing in altitude some before it hit the wall.


How many wings did the Ca 60 Noviplano have?

Caproni, an Italian plane manufacturer, thought that this airliner with nine wings and eight engines would be extremely stable. On its second test flight, the plane crashed after reaching an altitude of 60 feet.


Where did the fire on Air Canada Flight 797 originate?

After the plane landed, the whole cabin was engulfed in a flash fire, killing half of the passengers. As a result, all airplanes were required to have smoke detectors and automatic fire extinguishers in the lavatories.


What issue caused the Douglas DC-10 to suffer several headline-grabbing crashes?

The cargo door opened out instead of in, supposedly to allow for more room to load cargo. This made properly securing the door difficult, so it sometimes would open mid-flight, leading to horrific crashes.


Where was the gunner placed on the BE9?

This infamous WWI fighter was declared to be extremely unsafe for the gunner, per Royal Air Force commander Hugh Dowding.


What unfortunate nickname did Thunderpiglet earn?

This plane was supposed to be the U.S. Air Force's new training craft, but if an engine failed during takeoff and the landing gear was still deployed, the T-46 would surely crash.


What system triggered the fire that brought Swissair Flight 111 down?

Arcing in the entertainment system triggered the fire that consumed the Mylar insulation in the fuselage, leading the plane to crash in the Atlantic Ocean, killing everyone aboard.


What part of Aloha Airlines Flight 243 failed mid-air?

Corrosion and general damage to the fuselage caused a big section to tear off, killing a flight attendant who was blown out of the airplane. Amazingly, the rest of the plane held together long enough for pilots to land safely.


What method did the Marquis de Bacqueville use to try flying?

This Parisian marquis tried to fly from his mansion to some gardens on the other side of the river, but he landed on a barge and broke his leg instead.


What kind of aircraft did Alphonse Penaud first design?

Like the toys children use, Penaud's design used twisted rubber bands to spin the propellers. He also designed an airplane similar to what the Wright Brothers built, but when he couldn't get financial backing, Penaud committed suicide.


How many survived the crash of USAir Flight 427?

Thanks to a jammed valve in the rudder-control system, the plane rolled left and rapidly plunged toward the Earth, killing 132 people.


What safety measure did the crash of ValuJet Flight 592 trigger?

The fire that started in the airplane's cargo hold led to the death of 110 people as the flight crashed into the Everglades outside of Miami. The plane was carrying hazardous cargo.


What was the original job of the Blackburn Botha?

Ironically, the view from the cockpit was horrible, so this plane failed at its first job. It was also a failure later as a torpedo bomber and even a training aircraft.


What was failed aircraft inventor Besnier's profession?

Besnier, who lived in Sable, France, created a system of two rods with wings attached to both ends, but it only allowed him to glide quite briefly.


What wing design did the Bleriot III feature?

This strange French airplane was strikingly different from other designs right after the turn of the century, but it still failed to take flight.


What injury did Pierre Desforges suffer from his failed flight attempt?

Desforges' flying machine was a gondola with a canopy and two wings, boasting a 20-foot wingspan. The attempt to fly off the local lookout tower Tour Guinette resulted in the craft immediately crashing.


What was unique about the wings on the Christmas Bullet?

Dr. William Whitney Christmas designed this airplane, earning him the distinction of the "greatest charlatan to ever see his name associated with an airplane," according to one famous historian.


What brought down TWA Flight 800?

The center-wing fuel tank was almost empty. The fumes in it ignited, thanks to a short circuit, killing everyone aboard the plane.


What was wrong with the guns on the Roc fighter plane?

Blackburn designed this airplane as an escort for bombers and strike planes, arming it with a four-machine-gun turret behind the pilot, which was a horrible design failure.


What did Giovanni Battista Danti wear to attempt personal flight?

This comical attempt resulted in the Italian mathematician landing hard on the roof of Saint Mary's Church, near Lake Trasimeno.


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