14 Unique Early Experimental Flying Planes

Need is the mother of inventions. It is evident that many of the most important inventions were once produced during the World War, the time of turmoil and stress. And, by far the most important of all, the concept of military aviation was there to be started. In the short time span, we saw many numerous inventions in the field of aviation, but not every single one is bound to be successful. In this section, we have gathered all those early airplane inventions which were quite unique in their appearance, and most of them were unsuccessful.

1. Armstrong Whitworth Ape

Armstrong Whitworth ApeImage credit: wikimedia

Today aviation industry is hitting new heights, almost every country among the first world nations has mastered excellence in the area of flight, whether it is passenger jet, cargo carrier plane or fighter plane. However, that’s not the case before some 100 years ago or so. Before the World War 1, the airplane industry didn’t come into the big picture because of lack of technology. As the world went into the deep hell of war during 1914 and after, the need for dominance in the air resulted evolution of aircrafts design and aerodynamics for better and faster crafts.

The experimental aircraft, which are pivoted in the success of the technology whatsoever introduced into the aircrafts were always expensive and were technically unsound and failed even at testing concept. It was Armstrong Whitworth, who during World War 1 came up with ‘Ape’ for R.A.E (British Royal Aircraft Establishment) in the quest for making an infinitely adjustable airplane that would answer all questions regarding aerodynamics.

Read: Most Powerful Aircraft Engines in the World

The Ape lived up to its expectation too. To its flexibility, the fuselage could lengthen or shortened, different fins and tail-planes could be fitted, the wings could be changed in stagger, rake and dihedral. The entire tail section was one piece, and many other distinctive features that make Ape an extremely rare plane.

2. Sikorsky llya Muromets

Sikorsky llya MurometsImage credit: Wikimedia

Well, we all know that what the Russians are capable of when it comes to aviation. It seems like they know how to make biggest and certainly the best aircraft which the world has ever seen. Sikorsky llya Muromets is surely the biggest airplane around its regime. The Russian built aircraft was named after a hero from Russian mythology. It was first conceived as a luxurious aircraft with first ever passenger cabin, which was insulated with heat and it provides electricity through small wind powered turbine. After its introduction in 1913, the commercial aircraft soon converted to a first ever four engine heavy bomber unit during the World War 1.

Igor Sikorsky the designer of the craft, brought some revolutionary design changes in his aircraft like its spacious fuselage having a passenger saloon and washroom on board and many other unique things that soon became the backbone for all the commercial aircrafts which are bound to come in the near and far future.

3. Blackburn “Blackburd”

Blackburn BlackburdImage credit: Wikimedia

The Blackburn “Blackburd” was a British origin, single engine torpedo bomber aircraft, developed in 1918 by Blackburn Aircraft. The Blackburn Aircraft Company was commissioned to design and build a replacement for Sopwith Cuckoo another torpedo bomber out of favor because of its little payload. During those years, there was not a single aircraft carrier that can carry a large number of bombers on their deck, so the only available option for bomber planes was to take flight, bombard the target and dive into the water and wait there to be rescued or find another landing space.

The plane was three bay, with unswept wings and slab sided fuselage. Additionally, the wings were able to fold backwards enabling easy docking. The most striking feature of that plane was its cockpit which was situated towards the rear of that plane. In its first ever testing, the plane crashed, later the concluded reason for that found out by British Naval officials was its too heavy engine compared to the total body weight of the craft. The imbalance made it impossible to control the plane and causing such catastrophes. The design was neglected by the RNAF following several incidents.

4. Blackburn TB (Twin Blackburn)

Blackburn TB - Twin Blackburn

The wide use of Zeppelins by Germans during the first world war provoke the British Army to introduce an anti Zeppelin specialized aircraft. The Blackburn TB or Twin Blackburn was a long-range twin-engine aircraft. There were only 9 of this plane ever manufactured during its brief one year spell in the Royal Naval Air Service.

The plane had two fuselages situated over 10 ft apart, with the pilot in one and the observer in the other, having no means of communication, other than hand signals. Wooden and fabric covering fuselages, unswept and unequal-span wings make it a bit unlikely plane.

5. Caproni Ca.60

Caproni Ca60Image source: wikimedia

We are quite sure that many of you are must be amazed by looking at the picture above and even think that it might not be even a real plane, but the hollow building like structure is indeed a flying ship or at-least have intention to fly. It was the dream of Gianni Caproni an Italian aeronautical engineer to build an aircraft with a capacity of 100 or more passengers. On many previous occasions Caproni had designed multi engine bomber planes for Italian Air Force but after the War was ended drastic drop in their demand forces him to build commercial airliner. He soon took charge of things and after a couple of years of hard engineering, he announced that the Ca.60 is ready to fly.

Also known by the name of “Transaereo” the Ca.60 was actually a flying boat, having nine wings and each had a wingspan of 30m. Each composed of three superimposed surfaces. Below that it had the main hull which contained the cabin. It was powered by eight powerful liberty V12 engines. On the 2nd test run, Caproni Ca.60 crashed into the water, instantly wrecked after unsuccessful first trial. No one is quite sure what exactly happened that day and what cause the crash.

6. Christmas Bullet

Christmas Bullet

Considered by many as the worst aircraft ever constructed, the Christmas Bullet or Cantilever Aero Bullet Biplane was Designed by Dr. William Whitney Christmas who had no actual experience in aircraft design or aeronautical work.

One of many distinctive feature of this plane was a veneer-clad fuselage, which Whitney claimed that it will reduce aerodynamic drag.

The design had a serious flaw in which it lacked any kind of braces for the wings. The construction materials were salvaged from available wood and steel and were not “aircraft quality”.

7. AEA Cygnet

AEA CygnetImage source: wikimedia

Cygnet was an unorthodox aircraft of Canadian origin, first built in 1907. Designed by Alexander Graham Bell  the Cygnet had wing resembling a wall, which is made up of nearly 3,393 tetrahedral cells. By actually looking at the plane even in the inset, you can say that this one is one of the weirdest of all.

8. Philips Multiplane

Philips MultiplanePhoto credit: wikimedia

Horatio Frederick Phillips, was English born and an early aviation pioneer. He made some important contribution to aeronautics by his aerofoil design. Apart from this, in 1904, he invented a Multiplane which had 21 wings and a tail. His version of the plane was a development of the 1893 test vehicle, that could be flown by a person. The plane had 200 individual airfoils and boosted by 22hp engine.

9. Seddon Mayfly

Seddon MayflyPhoto credit: wikimedia

Seddon Mayfly, built by Royal Navy commissioned firm Accles & Pollock, was a tandem (a plane with two main wings, one located near the nose and one at the tail) biplane. At that time, it was the largest aero-plane in the world, but failed to fly at the testing site.

The aircraft had two sets of biplane wings, the front pair of greater span and lesser rear. Control area consisted of a forward-mounted elevators and a pair of crystal-shaped rudders mounted between each wing.

10. Flettner Airplane

Flettner AirplanePhoto credit: wikimedia

A flettner Airplane is a special kind of aircraft which has no wings, but has a rotor which uses the Magnus effect to create lift. Although, these kind of planes was built throughout the history of aviation, but any such plane was first invented by Anton Flettner.

Anton Flettner took the idea of the unusual aircraft from a research by Ludwing Prandtl at the Aerodynamic Research Institute in Gottingen, Germany. In the early 1920s, he invented the “rotor ship”which instead of sails uses rotors, which uses the resulting air from the spinning of rotors to move the vessel. One of those ships is called Baden Baden. Inspired by that, he started working further on, trying to contemplate the success into an airplane. He then successfully implied Magnus effect to achieve that. Though Flettner plane did not have much commercial demand, its principles are still intact.

In a recent research known as “iCar 101”(A Project to build an aircraft the size of a car and twice as fast as a car) based in Paris, France, suggest that Flettner Rotors in such roadable aircraft will support compactness and increase lift potential.

11. Blohm & Voss V 141

Blohm & Voss V 141Image source: wikimedia

This little baby was a World War 2 German tactical reconnaissance aircraft. It’s manufactured by Blohm&Voss during the World War 2 for the sole purpose of collecting imagery intelligence and other important data related to enemy base.

At first, it might not look as weird as the others, but it has some very notable and uncommon structural asymmetry which lead this into our list.

12. Vought V-173/XF5U-1

Vought V-173Image credit: wikimedia

The Vought V173 ‘’Flying Pancake”was designed by Charles H. Zimmerman. The two propeller shafts on the either side of flat, rather odd looking wings, give the V-173 a creepy sea-creature look, more like a huge stingray fish in the sky.

Originally, V-173 was an American experimental test aircraft built under an another project Vought XF5U ‘’Flying Pack”. Around the 1940s, the Navy had enough Japanese Kamikaze and decided to raise a fighter jet to tackle them.

The disc wing design overcame induced drag and the propellers were designed to rotate in the opposite direction, allowing the plane fly without a bigger area which was needed in most planes.

Read: Fastest Aircraft in the World

13. Antonov A -40 Krylya Tanka

Antonov A -40 Krylya Tanka

Just think how must destruction one can create if one can take a T-27 tank anywhere he wants by air? Yeah, you heard alright, carry a T-27 tank by air anywhere. Think impossible, but unthinkable, think again. Russians did attempt to glide a huge tank into a battleground to aid airborne forces. It was ambitious attempt, rather than practical one clearly, particularly around that point of time.

14. Zveno-SPB

Zveno-SPBPhoto source: wikimedia

During the World War 1, countries in a quest of gaining tactical advantage over their adversaries, tried many un-preceded experiments, and one of them is a flying aircraft carrier which is capable of leaving the Mothership to defend and intercept enemy aircraft. Britain and America were the first of the countries to conceptualize it, but it was the Russians, who ended up successfully materializing the aircraft.

Read: 15 Most Secret and Experimental Military Aircraft

The Zveno –SPB (Sostavnoi Pikiruyuschiy Bombardirovschik- Combined Dive Bomber) was configured by a Tupolev TB-3 a Russian made heavy bomber and two Polikarpov I-16s, a cantilever monoplane, on either side of TB-3. The two I-16 carry a pair of General Purpose Bombs known as FAB-250.

Written by
Varun Kumar

I am a professional technology and business research analyst with more than a decade of experience in the field. My main areas of expertise include software technologies, business strategies, competitive analysis, and staying up-to-date with market trends.

I hold a Master's degree in computer science from GGSIPU University. If you'd like to learn more about my latest projects and insights, please don't hesitate to reach out to me via email at [email protected].

View all articles
Leave a reply