Fasten your seatbelts, because on these planes a bumpy ride is guaranteed — if you even manage to get airborne in the first place. When these aircraft models were first built, people had high hopes. But looking back, experts are now calling them the worst planes of all time. From faulty designs to lackluster engines, these poorly-made jets were some of the biggest failures we’ve ever seen.
1. Yakovlev Yak-38
In this world, you can sometimes live or die by playing the imitation game. When you copy something amazing and do it well, you can be very successful. The only problem is that sometimes copying something is a lot easier said than done.
This was the case with the Yakovlev Yak-38, which was created by the Soviets in an attempt to match the British Navy’s impressive Harrier Jump Jet. The main issue with the Yak-38, however, was that it could only fly for a mere 15 minutes at a time! It also had trouble flying during bouts of cold weather — and even in warm weather it could only fly up to 800 miles.
2. Vought F7U Cutlass
It’s hard to look at this jet and not be in awe. It has a classically sleek appearance, and has caught many an eye thanks to its unique design. With a swept-wing and a tail that wasn’t so traditional, the Vought F7U Cutlass seemed destined for greatness. That was, of course, on the surface.
Even though it was incredibly fast, it struggled to do something pretty important when it comes to planes — stay in the air. In addition, it didn’t possess enough thrust to maintain successful takeoffs and landings, and eventually it was discounted as a plane that wasn’t complete. Sadly, many of these planes crashed as well.
3. Convair NB-36H
The idea that created the Convair NB-36H was certainly a questionable one. During the 1950s, someone decided that it would be wise to place a nuclear reactor on a jet. This became an extremely dangerous endeavor, and whenever it flew it was forced to be monitored heavily by a support crew that flew around it.
Eventually they realized it was too much trouble to handle, and they stopped making the plane. The silver jet flew a total of 47 times, certainly making it a failure that deserves to be on this list. Another nickname for this experimental aircraft was the “Crusader,” and no one was particularly disappointed when this massive hazard hung its lofty hat.
4. PZL M-15 Belphegor
To its credit, the PZL M-15 Belphegor was pretty wacky-looking, and in the best way. This unique contraption was made in Poland, and it was actually the only biplane that was ever mass-produced. Originally concocted in 1972, its primary purpose was to be a crop duster.
It was an interesting idea using an aircraft with strong jet power for agricultural purposes, though unfortunately this idea didn’t really pan out too well. Economically, it just wasn’t a good idea to be wasting all this powerful energy on something as simple as crops. It became extremely expensive to produce and maintain, and ultimately it was decided to stop making them.
5. Douglas TBD Devastator
We can all agree that all the planes on this list were problematic, but by comparison, the TBD Devastator’s design problem was on another level. Although it had the function of torpedo release, the only way this was possible was while the plane was flying at 115 miles per hour, and in a straight line. Fairly precise!
That’s not the kind of versatility you need in a fighter jet, especially when in the middle of a war. As a result, this jet was frequently vulnerable to being attacked. In fact, during the Battle of Midway, 41 of them were released into action — and a measly six returned.
6. McDonnell XF-85 Goblin
How can you go wrong with an aircraft vessel called the “Goblin? As it turns out, in many ways. First off, it must be explained that this model was meant to be like standard planes. It was a parasite fighter, meaning that it was actually a smaller plane that would attach to a much bigger one, and it was intended to be released at the opportune moment during times of war.
The only problem was, every time it got released, it would get dominated by much bigger planes belonging to the enemy. Eventually, the reason the Goblin failed had nothing to do with its functionality. It had to do with the entire concept behind it.
NEXT: The list of the worst planes in history runs deep, and we haven’t even scratched the surface yet!
7. Grumman X-29A
It’s crazy to think that a jet could have such a big place in American history and nonetheless be such a failure. In fact, the Grumman X-29A was used quite a lot by the U.S. Air Force during both the ’80s and the ’90s. The uniqueness of its forward-swept wing was intended to help the aircraft perform while flying at subsonic speed. But there was a catch.
The backwards wings may have helped out in one way, but it took away from the plane in other manners. For example, it caused the plane to be aerodynamically unstable, and as a former NASA employer recalled, “It was unflyable.”
8. Lockheed XFV-1 Salmon
During the ’50s, with the Cold War arms race at full speed, the U.S. military were trying all kinds of new things out when it came to aircraft design. The budget had just been raised, which gave them the green light to try out bold ideas and see how they went. As a result, the Lockheed XFV-1 Salmon was born, and as you can see right off the bat, it’s not your typical plane in terms of appearance.
From a practical standpoint, it was intended to be able to fly vertically, similar to the abilities of a helicopter. While this was helpful in certain aspects, it was also a detriment in other areas. In addition, this plane had some issues with the engine, which would sometimes malfunction horribly.
9. Bell YFM-1 Airacuda
When the Airacuda was first introduced to the world in 1937, its appearance was mind-blowing. With its sleek futuristic design, and its weird contrast to everything that came before, you can only imagine how excited people must have been at the time. In addition, there were some new technical improvements that it boasted, including a better placement of the engines and the guns.
This restructuring was supposed to improve performance during warfare, but ultimately these benefits were overshadowed by other difficulties. One of them, for example, was the rear propellers, which blocked the passenger’s ability to bail out of the plane. Another issue was the engine that kept overheating. This plane aimed to reflect the future — but didn’t get to see it.
10. Mikoyan Gurevich 23
The Soviets designed this intriguing-looking vessel with a unique needle-like tip at the front. It was characterized by something called a “look-down/shoot-down radar,” which was supposed to help with aerial warfare. However, there was a huge disadvantage to flying this particular model, and that was something as simple as comfort.
The pilot who flew it would have to sit in a small, cramped space, with limited visibility of the outside as well. In fact, it was the earlier model of this plane, the MiG-21, that was a lot more popular, and pilots kept resorting to using it when they felt disgruntled by this make.
NEXT: Some more of these planes were structured pretty badly, and the results get even more disastrous!
11. Rockwell XFV-12
There are many planes on this list from the early 20th century that failed because plane innovation was still relatively primitive. However, this plane was made in the ’70s, and by that point the bar for failure was a bit higher. Nevertheless, this plane still managed to get a few crucial details wrong.
Although the Rockwell XFV-12 looked flashy and sleek, it posed many structural issues that needed to be tinkered with. The makers of this plane had experimented with something called “thrust augmenter wing,” a concept that was supposed to help the plane with its verticality. Ironically, getting into the air was the one thing this plane never managed to do.
12. Heinkel He-162
When the Heinkel He-162 was made, it was spoken of with tones of reverence, because of how incredibly fast it was. In fact, to this day, it’s still one of the fastest models we’ve ever seen. So what was the problem? Well, despite its need for speed, this plane’s structure wasn’t the best, owing to the fact that it was built during very precarious times.
World War II was raging and there wasn’t a lot of time nor resources to optimize the Heinkel to its full abilities. The initial blueprints were only drafted in 90 days, and the plane itself was actually built out of wood instead of metal. Eventually the wood proved to be a material that was not sustainable for this plane’s durability.
13. Douglas DC-10
At first glance, this plane probably doesn’t look so different than the commercial airliners most of us are used to flying in regularly. But beyond what we see on the surface is a jet that some have called one of the worst designs ever. One particular fault it had was the cargo doors: they opened outward instead of inward, which certainly created eventual problems.
During a 1972 flight, one of the doors wasn’t closed properly and it actually burst open mid-flight! Even more alarming was the time in 1979 when an engine detached from the wing during takeoff. However, since these terrifying mishaps, lessons have been learned and they have since updated the plane to be a much safer ride.
14. Christmas Bullet
Aesthetically this plane has quite a lot going for it. Just from sheer appearance, it has an old classic feel to it — not to mention that the “Christmas Bullet” is a pretty awesome name too. That being said…there are some people who believe this is in fact the very worst aircraft ever made.
It was made by Dr. William Whitney Christmas (hence the title), and the story behind the plane’s downfall is actually pretty tragic. Christmas invited pilot Cuthbert Mills to test the plane for its debut, and even invited Mills’ mother to watch. Sadly, the wings folded during takeoff, and a crash ensued. Not a very merry Christmas, to say the least.
You gotta hand it to the makers of this plane — it looks like something straight out of a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang remake on steroids. It was manufactured by Caproni, a famous Italian plane-maker from the early 20th century, and he dubbed it the Noviplano. When he built it in the 1920s, people were absolutely ecstatic, because it was supposed to be able to carry 100 people across the Atlantic Ocean.
Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for everyone to see that it was a complete dud. The sad fact is that it only flew a measly two times in its life, and its second flight ended unceremoniously by a crash after it hovered only 60 feet high.
NEXT: Engineers and plane enthusiasts alike, get ready to cringe. Some of the most notorious badly-designed aircraft are up ahead.
16. De Havilland Comet
When the De Havilland Comet first debuted in 1952, the world was optimistic about it. There were some nice features this plane had to offer, including a comfortable passenger cabin whose design was considered pretty innovative for the time. Around a year after its debut, however, things started to get dicey and dangerous.
A few crashes occurred, and engineers were quickly trying to figure out what went wrong. It turned out that there were some real structural problems with the jet, causing the plane to be fatigued and quite unsustainable. In addition, the airframe was getting “over-stressed” during bad weather. All in all, it was an early failure that needed fixing.
17. Fisher P-75 Eagle
Americans had great hope that the Fisher P-75 Eagle would help bring success during World War II. The word “eagle” in the title was intended to symbolize American patriotism, further reflecting how optimistic everyone was about the plane’s potential. While building the plane, they had used an assortment of different parts from previous planes, and they were excited for it to reach great new heights.
However, like many of these other disappointing stories, the Eagle couldn’t fly the way they had intended. The main problem was its engine, called the Allison V-3420. which didn’t possess the necessary strength required for this model to perform at its best. The Eagle hasn’t taken off, but the Eagle has certainly landed.
18. The Roc
There are many reasons that people build innovative planes, and one of the chief reasons is for battle. “The Roc” was intended to be a fighter jet just for this purpose, and it certainly looked sleek and intimidating early on. With a four-machine gun turret located right behind the pilot’s seat, it seemed like it would be a promising weapon of the future.
But the loaded gun machine ultimately proved to be a bad idea, because it was way too heavy for this vessel to carry. The jet flew much slower as a result, and the British Royal Navy weren’t impressed. Ultimately, it didn’t really get used much in battle as originally intended, except for once when it was allowed to shoot down an opposing jet.
19. Bristol 188
There are known pioneers in every industry, and then there are those who do what they can to keep up. Back in 1947, everyone was impressed when Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier with the Bell X-1. The Brits were determined to make their own model that could hopefully do the same, and they called it the Bristol 188.
But they encountered a few problems when the time finally came to test it out. One of the main issues was that the fuel tank kept leaking during flight. The other problem was that the jet couldn’t manage to take off unless it was cruising above 300 miles-per-hour. Bristol, we have a problem.
20. Fairey Albacore
We’ve all heard the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Such was the case here. The Fairey Albacore was intended to be a proper upgrade from the Swordfish, a jet constructed during the ’30s. From 1939 to 1943, the Albacore came into the picture, and the British Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm were looking forward to using the newly improved model. Then, things started to get fishy.
Once they actually started using it, pilots complained about its performance, saying the Swordfish had actually been much better! One of their main issues with the Albacore was the single engine, and so, eventually the new model ceased to be manufactured entirely.
21. Tupolev Tu-144
In the late ’70s, there were two aircrafts that were called supersonic. One of these was the Concorde, a famous jet that is still revered all these years later. The other was the Tupolev Tu-144. Unfortunately, where the Concorde thrived, the Tupolev choked, and in fact it was said to be just plain dangerous.
In fact, the first-ever passenger prototype was set to debut at a Paris Air Show — and spectators watched excitedly, right up until their shock when it crashed. This was because of the faulty central digital systems that failed during the flight, causing the plane to go off-course.
22. ATR 72
This relatively modern plane was produced in France and Italy by aircraft manufacturer ATR. It was made with turbo props, which were said to be cost-efficient for flights. But some critics were very skeptical about it. One expert named Alex Murel said, “It’s massively outdated, and the existing fleet is really starting to fall apart.”
He further reasoned that these very same turbo props were “shaking the plane.” The truth is that there were a handful of crashes that this particular model was responsible for. As a result, there were some airlines that stopped using them, such as American Eagle — but crazily enough, some of them are still in service.
23. Blackburn Botha
Don’t get distracted by the strange name. The Blackburn Botha was ambitious, and it was supposed to be a massive help during World War II. A two-engined torpedo bomber, this reconnaissance aircraft got a whole lot of military personnel impressed initially, but the follow-through was sorely lacking.
Unfortunately, there were a handful of major problems with it, and eventually it was pretty useless. Among its numerous issues was the fact that it lacked power, and could only be adequately operated with four crew members. Another huge issue was that the vision from the plane was limited, rendering it weak in battle.
24. Wright Flyer
When people think of the first ever airplane, they generally think of the Wright Brothers. Yes, we’d be remiss if we didn’t say that the Wright Flyer is possibly one of the most iconic planes of all time, and sure, perhaps it’s cruel to point out its many faults considering how innovative it was. But let’s be real: it wasn’t exactly one of the sturdiest plane models.
In fact, the Smithsonian Institution described the Wright Flyer as “the first powered, heavier-than-air machine to achieve controlled, sustained flight with a pilot aboard.” That being said, this plane also wasn’t able to stay in the air for longer than 59 seconds — which is why it’s on this list.
Here’s an iconic plane that folks didn’t forget about in a hurry. In fact, it’s been nearly 120 years since this bad boy first took flight, so the fact that people still remember it is certainly an accomplishment. There were no planes back then, so scientist Samuel Langley’s creation was indeed a work of genius for a fleeting moment. But ultimately, his Aerodrome failed pretty miserably.
When he tried to get it going, it flew off its handle and actually fell right in the Potomac River. The Aerodrome was not a success, but it should however be noted that Langley was more lucky with other planes he built.
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