15 Weirdest Cold ωλɾ Jets Most People Forget About
With tensions running high in the Cold ωλɾ, nations scrambled to develop a myriad of different aircraft – and some of them were downright weird.
The history of military aviation is rich with legendary models that spanned decades of service, fulfilling a role reliably, and inspiring awe with their power, beauty, and gravity-defying performance. The Cold ωλɾ, in particular, spawned many of these legends. With tensions running high, nations scrambled to develop the latest and greatest military aircraft, capable of delivering destruction, protecting their homeland, and doing it all in style.
But for every successful legend, there are entire fleets of strange aircraft that were either killed during development or faded into obscurity due to far superior replacements. But avoiding that fate requires following established “rules” of aviation, and in a time when those rules were just being established, many attempts had to play by their own rules. This spawned entire decades worth of strange-looking, and just downright odd and embarrassing aircraft. Often times, unless they make a massive impact on aviation, these attempts fade from history and the memory of most people.
So read on, to see 15 of the weirdest Cold ωλɾ aircraft that played by their own rules, and were forgotten as a result:
BAC TSR-2 – Short-Lived, Long-Nosed
In the late 1950s, the British Government felt the need for a fighter jet that could reach Mach 2 (twice the speed of sound), and act as both a reconnaissance and strike aircraft. Combining the efforts of Britain’s major aircraft builders to form the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC), and build 2 “Tactical Strike and Reconnaissance, Mach 2” (TSR-2) prototypes.
The program had great potential, but a massive program cost pushed the Royal Air Force to order 110 American F-111 aircraft instead, canceling the TSR-2 program, as they could fulfill the same role for cheaper.
Convair XF2Y Sea Dart – No Need For A Carrier
The early 1950s was an experimental time for supersonic jet fighters. With the first generation of fighter jets having been born from the last days of WWII, the new technology was in its infant stages, and leaders within the US Navy had their doubts that they’d be able to take off and land from an aircraft carrier. To solve this theoretical problem, Convair created the XF2Y Sea Dart, a supersonic interceptor that was able to take off and land on water with a set of skis instead of landing gear.
Convair B-36 Peacemaker – 4 Burning, 6 Turning, 1 Nuclear Monster
Keeping a similar style to the B-29 Superfortress (a bomber so big, it was capable of dropping a nuclear bomb), the B-36 took “bigger = better” to the extreme. Its wingspan was 230 feet, it had over 400,000 lbs of loaded weight, and was kept in the air via 6 Radial engines mounted backward along with 4 jet engines adding thrust. It never saw combat and was replaced by the B-52 in 1958, but that’s a good thing, as it represented the ultimate in raw destructive power rather than a refined striking system.
Handley-Page Victor – Bizarre British Bomber
The ugliest of Britain’s V-bomber siblings, the Handley-Page Victor may be weird looking, but it’s a lethal ωɛλρσɳs system. Entering service in 1957, and capable of carrying mid-air refueling tanks and booms, city leveling nuclear bombs, or a devastating load of conventional bombs, the Victor remained a mainstay within the Royal Air Force until its retirement in 1993.
Nord 1500 Griffon – Funky Francophone
French aviation often gets overshadowed by American, British, and Russian endeavors, but their history is chock full of absurd prototypes and strange production flying machines. One such absurd prototype is the Griffon. Designed in 1954, the Griffon had a similar purpose to the BAC TSR-2, but accomplished it through less conventional means.
That giant engine is a Turbo-Ramjet, and much like an SR-71’s design, the conventional jet engine gets the aircraft to supersonic speeds, where the ramjet then takes over, using that supersonic air to generate even more thrust up to a top speed of 1,450 MPH. Much like the TSR-2, huge costs and cheaper competing aircraft canceled the program before any Griffons could enter service.
Bartini Beriev VVA-14 – Sci-Fi Space Ship Come To Life
No, I’m not trying to trick you with some movie screenshot, this is a real aircraft that actually flew. The looks are among the weirdest aircraft ever built, but things get weirder from there. Not only was this giant beast a seaplane, but it could also make use of the ground effect to essentially hover above the water. This was by design, as the 3 prototype VVA-14s were made to hunt American nuclear submarines that may be lurking along
Russian coastlines, but the program was canceled, and prototypes were scrapped.
Avro Canada VZ-9AV Avrocar – Aliens Or Canadians?
Speaking of fact being stranger than fiction, flying saucers do exist! They just came from up north rather than outer space. Designed by Avro Canada in 1952, the Avrocar used a jet engine to hover off the ground, then direct the thrust to the rear to pick up speed. It worked, but was too expensive to be viable for the Royal Canadian Air Force, and too small and unstable to provide any real use for the U.S. Air Force. The program was canceled in 1961, but fortunately, the prototypes were preserved by various museums.
Northrop TACIT Blue – Stealth Secret
Stealth aircraft technology revolutionized airpower with the 1991 Operation Desert Storm, but that technology had been in the works since 1977. These classified Stealth development aircraft were known as Have Blue and Tacit Blue, with each spawning their own stealth bombers, the F-117 Nighthawk from HAVE Blue, and the B-2 Spirit from TACIT Blue.
Douglas XB-43 Jetmaster – Bug-Eyed Bomber
With tensions rising in the opening days of the Cold W4r, America knew a jet-powered bomber was the next step in air power. The first of these American jet bombers to take flight was this ugly beast in 1946, the XB-43 Jetmaster. While it paved the way for many successful bombers, the Jetmaster itself never made it past the prototype phase.
North American F-107 Ultra Sabre – Extreme Intake
The F-86 Sabre is a legend among legends, considered one of, if not the best of the first generation of jet fighters. To replace it as the premier jet fighter in 1953, the F-100 Super Sabre added supersonic capabilities and a much larger ωɛλρσɳs capacity to the F-86 with great success.
The newly developed F-105 Thunderchief stole its thunder though, reducing the Air Force order from 33 F-107s to just 3, sending its legacy into obscurity. And before you ask, no pilot was ever sucked into the air intake during an ejection.
Sukhoi SU-47 Berkut – Backwards In Black
It first flew in 1997, 6 years after the fall of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold W4r, but development had been taking place since 1982. Intended to be a Russia’s entry into the next generation of fighter jets, the crazy wings that seemed to have been mounted backwards give it absurdly good maneuverability.
Saab J-29 Tunnan – A Barrel With Wings
When Saab was still making cars, they loved to brag about how their cars were “Born from jets.” That’s true, though. What’s also true is that both their cars and aircraft are just plain weird. Sweden’s first-generation fighter jet introduced in 1948, the J-29 Tunnan was a great fighter that served Sweden well until 1976.
De-Havilland DH.110 Sea Vixen – Foxy Fighter
A development of De-Havilland’s successful twin-boom fighters like the Vampire and Venom, the Sea Vixen took flight in 1957 with 119 units entering British Royal Navy service. Capability wise, there’s nothing too odd about this naval fighter, but looks alone put it into the weird books. Still, the “Vampire” never saw active combat.
Republic XF-91 Thunderceptor – Warped Wings
First flown in 1949, the XF-91 Thunderceptor was a development aircraft for the F-91 interceptor program. While experimental aircraft are normal for any program, the XF-91 is anything but normal. Not only can those strange wings tilt up and down by a full 7 degrees, but it also is powered by a combination of jet and rocket engines. Those tandem engines made it the first combat designed airplane to break the sound barrier in level flight.
Myasishchev VM-T Atlant – Cosmic Cargo
NASA’s Space-Shuttle-carrying 747s are legendary among even those who couldn’t care less about aviation. The Soviets created their own space shuttle, known as “Buran Energia” in the 1970s, but had no real way of getting it to the launchpad. The world’s largest aircraft, the AN-225, was designed to fulfill the purpose of transporting the shuttle but wasn’t ready in time, so Myasishchev stepped in, converting 5 of their flawed and accident-prone but mighty 3M bombers into the beastly VM-T Atlant.
They went on to carry the Buran shuttle, and other main rocket components to its only successful launch, and then were immediately retired, never to be flown again.