The aircraft we have today are the result of a continuous process of designing, testing, and tweaking. If it wasn’t for people who saw a need and had the guts to try and come up with an answer, we wouldn’t have any of the technological advancements that we currently enjoy. Let’s honor their efforts as we look back at seven of the most interesting aircraft concepts in history.
1. Bachem Ba 349 Natter
The Ba 349 was intended to be a point-defense rocket-powered interceptor used against Allied bombers during World War II.
It functioned practically the same way as a regular surface-to-air missile. It took off vertically and flew to its target via autopilot. All the pilot (probably more aptly called a gunner) had to do was point the rocket at its intended target and unleash its armament of rockets.
As soon as the task was finished, the pilot would have simply parachuted out of the rocket. The fuselage that contained the rocket’s motor was also ejected and was kept from crashing to the ground by a separate parachute.
The Ba 349 never got past the testing phase. It’s first and only manned flight in 1945 resulted in the death of test pilot Lothar Sieber.
2. Blohm & Voss P.194
Designed in 1944, the P.194 was one of the four concepts Blohm & Voss submitted to the German Ministry of Aviation (also known as Reichsluftfahrtministerium or RLM) in response to the latter’s requirement for a tactical bomber and ground attack aircraft that could replace the Junkers Ju 87.
It was designed by Richard Vogt with an asymmetrical layout just like some of his other planes. It was to be loaded with a cluster of powerful guns in its nose and up to 500 kilograms of explosives in its bomb bay.
The project was never to materialize, however, as it was rejected, along with Blohm & Voss’ other three designs, by the RLM.
3. Bristol Brabazon
Nicknamed “The White Elephant”, this gargantuan plane was designed and produced by the Bristol Aircraft Company to be a commercial airliner that would cross transatlantic routes between the United Kingdom and the United States.
It was produced in line with the British government’s efforts to study the needs of the country’s civil airliner market. The project, along with the only prototype ever built, was scrapped in 1953, however, just four years after its first flight in 1949. Airliners believed that it was too big and costly to be of any use, being able to carry no more than 100 passengers (although it was significantly roomier than any other commercial airliner at the time).
4. BAC TSR-2
The British Aircraft Corporation’s TSR-2 was expected to be the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) top strike and reconnaissance aircraft from the 1960s onward. It was designed to be fast enough to effectively shoot through a well-guarded battle area and powerful enough to destroy vital targets behind it using conventional or nuclear weapons.
But that’s not all. It was also meant to have high-speed, high-altitude photo reconnaissance capabilities.
No matter how you look at it, it was an ideal combat aircraft at the time. Unfortunately, the entire project was cancelled in 1965 due to rising costs and inter-service arguments regarding the country’s future defense requirements.
5. Boeing SST 2707
Meant to be the first US-made supersonic transport (i.e., an aircraft designed to transport civilians at speeds above the speed of sound), the SST 2707 was designed and built by Boeing after winning a government-funded contract in a competition.
It would definitely have been a promising aircraft had the project pushed through. However, rising costs, the absence of a clear target market and strong environmentalist opposition ultimately led to its cancellation in 1971. The two prototypes that were in production at the time were never completed.
6. North American XB-70 Valkyrie
The XB-70 Valkyrie was designed by North American Aviation as a prototype for the proposed B-70 bomber. Its ability to shoot through the skies at speeds beyond mach 3 and at an altitude of 70,000 feet (or 21,000 meters) would have made it untouchable to interceptors—which were the only real weapon against bombers at the time.
Unfortunately, high development costs together with the introduction of high-altitude surface-to-air missiles and intercontinental ballistic missiles ultimately led to the scrapping of the whole project in 1961.
7. Sukhoi T-4 Sotka
Also known as Project 100 or Aircraft 100, the T-4 Sotka was intended to be a high-speed anti-ship, reconnaissance and strategic bomber. It was designed by Pavel Sukhoi and Naum Chernyakov.
The project faced some serious difficulty along the way and necessitated extensive research for the production the required technologies and materials that would allow the bomber to effectively sustain supersonic speeds.
Unfortunately, despite Sukhoi’s efforts, the project was ultimately considered a very expensive underperformer that also had persistent issues with its fly-by-wire system. The project was officially terminated in 1975.
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