Lost Opportunity: Why the Mach 3 SR-71 Spy Plane Was Never Made Into a Bomber

Lost Opportunity: Why the Mach 3 SR-71 Spy Plane Was Never Made Into a Bomber

David Axe, Joe Coles

History, Americas


And 10 other warplane ideas that never made it 

Key point: These are the designs that attempted to make an SR-71-like bomber. However, such plans ended up failing for a variety of reasons.

For every military aircraft that makes it into service, a thousand projects survive only in tattered blueprints in filing cabinets or as lonely prototypes in museums. Here, courtesy of War Is Boring’s David Axe and Hush-Kit’s Joe Coles, are 10 warplanes that might have been.

Northrop Fang

Ed Schmued designed the North American P-51 Mustang fighter that helped the Allies win World War II. A decade later in 1952, now working for Northrop, Schmued outlined a simple, single-engine jet fighter. The N-102 Fang.

Forty-one feet long, powered by a single J79 turbojet and sporting a simple delta wing, the Fang bucked the trend toward bigger, heavier and more complex fighters. Northrop built a mock-up and pitched the N-102 to the Air Force in 1953 and the Navy in 1954. Ultimately, both branches opted for bigger fighters such as the F-4, which was roughly twice the Fang’s size and boasted two J79s.

But Northrop didn’t entirely give up on the idea of a small, simple fighter. The company’s F-5 family of fighters, including the F-5A, the much-improved F-5E and variants and even the prototype F-20 all owe their design philosophy to Schmued’s N-102. F-5s remain in service all over the world.

Sud-Est SE.5000

Aeroplane designers hate wheels. Wheels are for cars. The weight and complexity of a retractable undercarriage is a huge nuisance. Why not do away with them altogether?

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