Ready to go up, up and away? Here are some of the most unique planes which have helped us humans get off the ground and go soaring through the air.
We tend to think of airplanes as all being essentially the same. They have wings, engines, a fuselage and the same basic shape ... right? Truth is, planes come in a variety of forms, some of which don't look anything like your "typical" plane, at all.
Many of the most extreme ones were designed specifically for aviation research and experimentation. Some of them became pretty famous, too. How about that 1970s plane that looked like the engineers forgot the wings (and pretty much everything else) and just decided to go with a flying giant engine, instead? We bet you can recall that one!
Then there are the planes that look like someone just went and stitched two jets together for the fun of it. Hey - one of those planes even has the really cool job of helping a spaceship get into orbit. Know which one it is? The answer's in the quiz!
Quite a few of these one-of-a-kind flying machines were developed for military use. Some were very practical and others ... not so much. Turns out there are easier ways to get armored vehicles to the front lines other than attaching wings to them. If you've seen that crazy one, then this quiz is right up your alley (or runway!)
It's time to indulge your fascination for the oddest-looking planes that have taken man up into the wild blue yonder. So, break out your bomber jacket, climb into the cockpit and take the quiz, now!
Also known as the Nemuth Umbrella Plane, this circular wing 1934 aircraft was designed by students at Miami University – a public research university in Ohio. The Nemuth Parasol helped pave the way for future developments in circular wing aircrafts such as the Avrocar and the Flying Pancake.
The Convair XFY-1 Pogo was developed as a prototype vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft for the United States Navy. The Pogo flew horizontally, but since it was a tail-sitter aircraft, it was able to land in a nose-up position in tight spaces where a normal fighter jet simply would not fit.
The Antonov A-40 was the Soviet Union’s attempt to airlift, glide and land a tank anywhere its armies needed one. Even after being stripped of most of its armor and ammunition, however, the tank (plus glider) was still too heavy and unwieldly for the bomber which carried it to maneuver safely with it. The A-40’s test flight in 1942 was its only one.
American aerospace engineer Burt Rutan has designed close to 50 aircraft during his career, including the Model 281 Proteus for Scaled Composites (an aerospace company he founded). This experimental tandem-wing, twin-engine aircraft was built in 1998 as a high-altitude long endurance plane. It has flown continuously at an altitude of over 60,000 feet for more than 18 hours.
Two Bartini Beriev VVA-14 prototypes were made in the 1970s by the Soviet Union. The design included the ability to fly for long distance over water using the wing-in-ground effect to travel on a cushion of air. The VVA-14 was intended to be a vertical take-off amphibious aircraft although vertical take-off was never actually tested before the project was shelved.
Between 1979 and 1982, NASA used the Ames-Dryden AD-1 Oblique Wing aircraft to test the viability of having a pivoting wing on a plane. The idea was to be able to place the wings at an oblique angle during high-speed flight to reduce drag on the plane, thereby increasing fuel efficiency.
Close to the end of WWII, the Douglas Aircraft Company presented the United States Army Air Forces with a proposal for this experimental high-speed bomber aircraft. The Mixmaster was designed to experience minimum drag by having its two engines within the body of the plane driving a pair of propellers in the tail. Only two prototypes were built before the program
As incredible as it may seem, the experimental Goodyear Inflatoplane was just as its name suggests – an inflatable plane! It could conveniently fit in the trunk of a car when deflated and soar to over 10,000 feet once you got it in the air. The United States Army canceled the project, however, since the Inflatoplane had one obvious flaw – it could easily be popped by “a well-aimed bow and arrow.”
This experimental top secret U.S. military craft was developed by Canadian aircraft manufacturing company Avro Canada in the 1950s. The Avrocar was an 18-foot wide, 3.5-foot high disk which looked exactly how most people might imagine a UFO would. It suffered from being extremely unstable in flight, however, and engineers were never able to get this particular flying saucer more than 3 feet off the ground without encountering serious safety issues.
America began development of the McDonnell XF-85 Goblin toward the end of the Second World War. As a compact fighter jet, the Goblin was intended to be transported as a “parasite aircraft” within the bomb bay of a much larger aircraft. It was also expected that the Goblin would be able to dock with its mothership once its mission was complete but that proved too challenging – the project was scrapped.
Only one of the experimental Vought V-173 was built during the United States Navy’s fighter aircraft program in World War II. Its flat “all-wing” design led to it being called the “Flying Pancake.” Its first flight was in 1942 but it was retired in 1947 after the Navy decided not to pursue any further development.
The wings on this American experimental aircraft may look like they were fitted on backwards, but it was done for a very good reason. The Grumman X-29 was built as a technology demonstrator to test the efficiency of the forward swept wing design (among other features). NASA and the United States Air Force tested the two X-29 aircraft that were built from the maiden flight in December of 1984 to 1991.
Designed by Italian aeronautical engineer Luigi Stipa, this experimental aircraft had both its engine and propeller completely enclosed in its hollow, barrel-shaped fuselage. From its maiden flight on October 7, 1932, the Stipa-Caproni’s design showed improved engine performance and rate of climb. It is credited with contributing to the development of the jet engine.
In 1972, a team of German engineers, including Alexander Lippisch who had originally conceived the idea, came up with this wingless experimental aircraft for the Federal German Ministry of Defense. The engineers did away with the wings since they were researching flight by use of the ground-effect – flight on a cushion of air over a flat surface (land or sea). The aircraft was manufactured by Dornier and is officially called the Dornier Aerodyne.
This technology demonstrator aircraft was developed for the United States Air Force in the early 1980s. Its appearance is best described as a slightly rounded cuboid and this unusual shape earned the Tacit Blue the nicknames “the whale” and “alien school bus.” What the Tacit Blue lacked in terms of aerodynamics, it more than made up for, however, in stealth ability.
The Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit is a flying wing heavy penetration strategic bomber. Also called the Stealth Bomber, this American aircraft is designed with both low observable stealth technology and the ability to deliver conventional and thermonuclear weapons. Only 21 of the B-2 Spirit have been produced, so far.
“Bug Eye” and the “Flying Bug” are just a couple of the names the British Edgley Optica has been given thanks to its unique appearance. This low-speed light aircraft was built specifically for use in observation work.
The Scaled Composites White Knight Two is a four-engine, jet-powered space aircraft carrier. It is used to lift Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo (also designed and built by Scaled Composites) to its release altitude of 50,000 feet. When doing so, White Knight Two carries the sub-orbital spacecraft between its twin fuselages.
This tactical reconnaissance aircraft was used by the Germans in World War II. Its asymmetrical design featured a separation of the cockpit from the engine and propeller. The British managed to capture one BV 141 during the war, but no examples of the aircraft have survived.
This experimental hybrid helicopter/fixed-wing aircraft was developed for NASA as part of its research into air flow. The Sikorsky X-Wing combined a helicopter's vertical take-off capabilities with a jet’s speed and propulsion mechanism. It was developed in the 1980s but never flew before the project was canceled in 1988.
The Pregnant Guppy was developed and manufactured by Aero Spacelines for NASA. Its outsized design was done to match its intended use: ferrying bulky spaceship parts for the Apollo program. Its first flight was in September of 1962 and it was formally retired in 1979, replaced by Aero Spacelines’ Super Guppy planes.
The 250,000-pound Spruce Goose was a wooden heavy transport aircraft which was made almost entirely of birch (not spruce as its nickname suggests). Only one was ever built, based on a design by filmmaker Howard Hughes. The Spruce Goose holds the distinction of being the largest fixed-winged seaplane ever built and thanks to its only flight on November 2, 1947, it also holds the record of being the aircraft with the largest wingspan to achieve flight.
This experimental combination aircraft is a cross between an airplane and an airship, thereby giving operators the benefits of both high speed and buoyancy. The American-made craft is filled mostly with helium and capable of transporting at least 20 tons of cargo. A variant of the P-791, the LMH-1, is designed as a passenger aircraft to carry 19 passengers plus a crew of 2.
The Rutan Model 202 Boomerang is an asymmetrical experimental light aircraft. American aerospace engineer Burt Rutan designed the Boomerang to remain controllable in flight even if it lost one of its two engines. The plane's forward swept wings gives it its characteristic boomerang appearance.
The XB-35 was among a number of similarly styled aircraft developed by Northrop Corporation for the United States Air Force. It was a flying wing experimental heavy bomber which had its first flight in 1946. Although the program was canceled in 1949, the XB-35 can be credited as one of the planes which contributed to Northrop’s development of the B-2 Stealth Bomber in the 1980s.
The Dornier Do J was a flying boat by pioneer German aircraft designer and builder Claudius Dornier. It was designed to carry up to 10 passengers plus a crew of 3. The first Do J flight took place in November of 1922 and the over 250 aircraft which were built have been put into service by several countries around the world.
The Caspian Sea Monster was a Soviet experimental vehicle designed and built in the 1960s. It made use of the ground effect to travel up to 10 meters above water on a cushion of air. The Caspian Sea Monster is among the largest aircraft ever built and flown.
One 3-minute flight on December 12, 1969 was all the airtime NASA’s Hyper III saw. The remotely piloted, unpowered aircraft was designed as part of a project developing a specific type of wing for a re-entry vehicle. The Hyper III is called a lifting body aircraft since its entire body generates lift during flight.
Built by British aerospace company Short Brothers, the Short SC.7 Skyvan is a 19-seat twin-turboprop aircraft. Thanks to its boxy appearance, the Skyvan is often referred to as “The Shed” or the Flying Shoebox.” Over 150 Skyvans have been produced and some are regularly used to transport photographers and skydivers.
This tilt-wing experimental aircraft was design for both vertical and short take-off and landing (VTOL and STOL). The LTV XC-142 had its maiden flight in September of 1964. A total of five XC-142s were built, racking up over 480 flights during testing.
The de Lackner HZ-1 Aerocycle is more of a “personal helicopter” than it is a plane. The manufacturers, de Lackner Helicopters, developed it in 1954 for the United States Army and officially called it the DH-4 Heli-Vector. It was designed as a way to send a single soldier on reconnaissance missions, but following a pair of crashes, the program was shelved.
The British-made Miles M.39B Libellula (named after a type of dragonfly) was an experimental tandem wing bomber developed during the Second World War. With the larger wings placed in back, the twin-engine plane was designed to give pilots the best view possible when landing on an aircraft carrier. Its first flight was on July 22, 1943 but the British Air Ministry later canceled the project.
North American Aviation built 272 of their F-82 Twin Mustangs for the United States Air Force. Some variants were designed so that the pilot could operate the plane from either of its two cockpits while other designs had the pilot in one cockpit and the radar operator in the other. Production of the F-82, a long-range escort fighter, began shortly before WWII ended.
The Salmon was a 1950s prototype for the use of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) in a fighter aircraft. It was an experimental tail-sitter aircraft which could take off from and land on its tail. Once in the air, it adjusted to flying horizontally.
The PZL M-15 Belphegor was a Polish-made aircraft used for Soviet agricultural aviation (crop dusting, top dressing, etc.). Although the Belphegor held the distinction of being the world's only jet biplane, it soon lost favor with its operators as it was very noisy, slow and had a high fuel consumption rate.
The Douglas Aircraft Company manufactured a single X-3 stiletto in the 1950s as an experimental aircraft for the United States Air Force. Although the X-3 was designed for tests involving supersonic travel (faster than the speed of sound or Mach 1) it was unable to achieve the required speeds.
The American-made Kaman K-MAX comes in both a manned and an unmanned (remote-controlled) version. At first glance, the K-MAX’s pointed nose and narrow, wedge-shaped profile may give it the appearance of a plane, but it is actually a helicopter designed to lift loads that weigh more than it does. The K-MAX can lift external loads which weigh more than 6,000 pounds.
The Caproni Ca.60 Noviplano seaplane (or flying boat) had 9 wings, 8 engines and the ability to transport up to 100 persons. Italian aeronautical engineer Giovanni Caproni designed the Noviplano in the early 1900s with the intention that it would become a transatlantic passenger airliner. It, however, crashed and was destroyed on its second flight on March 4, 1921.
The McDonnell Douglas X-36 is described as a “tailless fighter agility research aircraft.” It was built as a prototype, less than one-third the size of an actual fighter and as such, was piloted remotely from the ground. The highly maneuverable X-36 had its first of 31 flights on May 17, 1997.
This French 1950s single-person aircraft looks very much like the bug it is named for: coleoptere is French for beetle. It was a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft with an annular wing sometimes referred to as a cylindrical wing or a ring wing.
With the distinct look of a beluga whale, the Airbus A300-600ST is an outsize cargo freight aircraft. The “ST” in its name stands for “Super Transporter” and that was the aircraft’s official name before the company formally adopted the (obvious) nickname “Beluga.” Five of the Airbus Beluga wide body airliners have been built since 1992.
This executive transport was designed and manufactured in the 1980s and 1990s by American general aviation company Beechcraft. The Starship has a pressurized cabin and can accommodate 6 – 8 passengers.
The 9-seater Avanti, whose wing placement gives it its unique appearance, is produced by Piaggio Aerospace as an executive transport. Interestingly, while the Avanti is noted for being quieter on the inside than most other comparable planes, its exterior high-pitched noise is often a cause of complaints.
The needle-nosed Dornier Do 31 was designed in the 1960s for the German Air Force. Three of these experimental vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) jet transport aircraft were built before the project was canceled in 1970. The Do 31 was meant to provide tactical support to a VTOL jet fighter.
This special purpose racing aircraft was made by Granville Brothers (Gee Bee) Aviation in the U.S and had its maiden flight in 1931. It won the Thompson Trophy Race the following year and became very well known for its speed. Unfortunately, several design elements made it very difficult to pilot and after a number of fatalities, the Gee Bee developed the reputation of being a very dangerous aircraft.
The North American XB-70 Valkyrie was a prototype strategic bomber and supersonic research aircraft. The Valkyrie was designed in the 1950s and first flew in September of 1964. It had 6 engines and the ability to fly at very high altitude for very long distances going at a speed of Mach 3.
This American military aircraft is built for both vertical and short take-off and landing (VTOL and STOL). While the Osprey functions like a helicopter, it also gives users the benefits of long-range, high-speed cruise performance they would get from certain types of planes.
The Savoia-Marchetti S.55 was an Italian double-hulled flying boat of the 1920s to 1940s. The prototype of the S.55 is noted for setting a variety of records, including ones for speed and altitude, as well as distance with a payload.
The Italian-made Nimbus EosXi is a hybrid aircraft made in the shape of a delta (triangular) wing. It is gas-filled, unmanned and capable of short take-off and landing (STOL).
Officially named the Breguet 761, 763 and 765, this family of French airliners and freighters was produced during the 1940s and 1950s. They were built with two floors like British double-decker buses which led to their nickname “Deux-Ponts” – French for double-decker. Some variants of the Breguet Deux-Ponts had an elevator for moving between floors.