Flying Failures: These 5 U.S. Warplanes Were Total Flops

Flying Failures: These 5 U.S. Warplanes Were Total Flops

David Axe

Security,

In the 1950s and ‘60s, American plane-makers went crazy developing new fighters, bombers and reconnaissance aircraft for the U.S. armed services. Some of the most successful designs — the F-4, the F-15 and B-52 — remain in service in 2019. Other concepts failed. Some of them, spectacularly. Here are a few.

In the 1950s and ‘60s, American plane-makers went crazy developing new fighters, bombers and reconnaissance aircraft for the U.S. armed services. Some of the most successful designs — the F-4, the F-15 and B-52 — remain in service in 2019.

Other concepts failed. Some of them, spectacularly. Here are a few.

Convair YB-60

In the early 1950s, the U.S. Air Force wanted a turbojet-powered heavy strategic bomber to lug atomic bombs across oceans. Convair had built the piston-engine B-36 for the Air Force and decided that simply swapping out the B-36’s prop motors for jets — among other modest changes — would suffice to produce a winning new bomber.

The result was the YB-60, a 171-foot-long monster of a warplane sporting eight J57 turbojets. The first of two prototypes took off on its inaugural flight in April 1952. The YB-60 could fly 2,900 miles at a cruising speed of 467 miles per hour while lugging a 36 tons of bombs.

Impressive, sure — but not as impressive as the performance of the YB-60’s most direct competitor, Boeing’s B-52. The eight-engine B-52 cruises at 525 miles per hour over a distance of 4,500 miles while carrying 35 tons of bombs.

The Air Force cancelled the YB-60’s test program in January 1953. B-52s remain in the U.S. inventory.

Bell XF-109

In 1955, the U.S. Navy and Air Force approached Bell Aircraft Corporation with a far-out idea — design a Mach-two fighter capable of launching and landing vertically. Bell dutifully drew up a design for what it unofficially called the XF-109.

Fifty-nine feet long, the XF-109 featured a startling eight J85 jet engines — four afterburning motors arranged two apiece in rotating wingtip nacelles, plus another two afterburners in the rear fuselage and a pair of non-afterburning J85s pointing downward behind the cockpit.

With distinct rearward- and downward-blasting powerplants, the XF-109’s basic form is not dissimilar to that of the F-35B supersonic jump jet that Lockheed Martin designed for the U.S. Marine Corps 40 years later.

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