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October 21, 2014

9 Insane Experimental Aircraft That Actually Exist


Up in the air…it’s a bird…it’s an experimental plane…it’s…yeah, it’s an experimental plane. While many of the current aerospace projects are strictly classified, the planes that are both in development and those that have been abandoned represent some very progressive modern thinking and some truly baffling ideas from earlier eras. While some of these planes and rockets were meant to change the world and came up short, many are on deck right now, leading us to wonder if they may represent a glimpse into the future.

9. Boeing – Bird of Prey

This aircraft, first flown on September 11, 1996, took stealth technology a step further than its predecessors. It was a relatively cheap $67 million to develop but was created with no intent to produce, but rather as a demonstration of various technologies. Huh. Seems like you could do that with a plane you actually planned on building on a large scale. Whatever. I’m just a writer.

The name comes from a Klingon warship, and the novelties didn’t stop there. The plane only weighed 7,000 pounds and could only travel at 300 mph, meaning that this thing wouldn’t have lasted more than a mad minute in combat, stealth or not.

8. Rotary Rocket – Roton

This manned rocket was developed in the 1990’s to reduce the cost of getting supplies and payloads to manned space stations. Rather than attaching a capsule to a rocket, this vehicle was intended to be self-contained, utilizing helicopter blades in tandem with jets to lift off. The blades would be used only upon landing, ensuring that the tree tons of cargo is set down gently. However, due to issues upon exiting the atmosphere, the project was scrapped and the company filed for bankruptcy early in the new millennium.

7. DARPA and USAF – FALCON

Okay. DARPA stands for Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, USAF stands for United States Air Force, and FALCON stands for Force Application and Launch from Continental United States. Hmm. That last one feels kinda forced. Originally designed as a weapons deployment system in 2003, researchers realized that the vehicle could be used to deploy satellites into space as well. The vehicle would be unmanned and about the size of a fighter plane, though capable of achieving Mach 6 in order to escape the earth’s atmosphere. The initial flight was a failure, as the plane terminated the flight sequence and landed in the ocean, but another flight has been scheduled for this year with corrections made.

6. Goodyear – Inflatoplane

You can probably guess from the manufacturer and the name of the aircraft what this one was about. The Inflatoplane was essentially a (surprise!) inflatable plane that was designed and built in only twelve weeks and could be transported by boat, truck, or aircraft to remote destinations. However, once it was assembled, the plane was still essentially a flying raft, and as such the U.S. Army, the sponsor of the project, said that they couldn’t find a “valid military use for an aircraft that could be brought down by a well-aimed bow and arrow.” The project began in 1955 and was discontinued in 1962, though the planes still exist in museums.

5. Convair – Seadart

The Seadart was the only seaplane (meaning that it took off from water, rather than the ground) to ever break the sound barrier, but that purpose didn’t prove useful enough to keep the project around and the plane was abandoned in 1957 after a prototype flight. The plane was propelled by two jet engines, and, after several shaky test flights, in 1954 the plane exploded in midair, killing its test plot. Immediately following the tragedy, the Navy lost interest and the project was abandoned.

4. NASA – Helios

In the late 70’s and through the 1980’s, NASA was looking for a solar powered unmanned aircraft, primarily for collecting research data. They found a moderately successful aircraft in the Helios, though early iterations were test flown using battery power to test the aerodynamics. Much later, in 1995, the Pathfinder, operating on technology honed from the Helios, conducted a twelve-hour flight at an altitude of 50,000 feet, setting an altitude record for solar-powered aircraft. It’s not thought that these aircraft can serve as low-flying satellites, providing much more access than their high-flying brethren.

3. Northrop – Tacit Blue

This aircraft was developed to demonstrate surveillance technology in the early-mid 1980’s. The odd shape apparently reduced its visibility on radars, and it was purported to be durable enough to fly over combat lines and survive hostility. However, there were some differences of opinion. A Northrop engineer was quoted in 1996 as saying “the most unstable aircraft man has ever flown.” That doesn’t sound good. It was nicknamed the whale and retired in 1985 after 135 test flights. Oh well.

2. Dassault – nEUROn

The nEUROn has been built with its first flight scheduled for next year. The concept is a stealth combat drone. It is not thought to be entered into production, but rather exists at a cost of $50 million to demonstrate various stealth and drone technologies. The aircraft will carry both bombs and guns, capable of speeds up to .8 mach.

1. EADS – Barracuda

This unmanned aircraft is the result of a braintrust from both Germany and Spain, having been designed with the dual purpose of recon and combat. While the first test flight ended with a crash in 2006, the project was picked back up in 2008 and flew safely over Canada in 2009, having achieved a speed of Mach .85. it is only capable of flying up to 20,000 feet and can only carry an additional 600 pounds of cargo. The hope is that the plane will be modular and adaptable for a number of different uses, rather than the singular-use planes that a number of countries and firms are developing.

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