Fighting and exchanging artillery shots on land is already hard enough: you have to be precise and careful; you also have to consider your position, your target’s position, the kind of weapon you exactly have, and all those other things. Air combat is even harder, from bombing enemy targets to protecting bases and assets to exchanging fire while mid-air. That’s why it’s no wonder that aircraft designers experimented and worked with different innovations to help the pilots better achieve whatever their tasks were, at the same time giving the nation better chances of winning at times of war. Part of innovation is the trial-and-error process, and sometimes, the results were the wackiest, unique-looking planes. Let’s check them out.

Vought V-173

Perhaps one of the cutest experimental fighters of World War II that was built in 1942, Vought was loving called “Flying Pancake,” and rightly so.

The Vought V-173 “Flying Pancake” in-flight (Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons/Wikipedia)

V-13 had the usual “tail dagger” design of many aircraft built in WWII. It also featured dual rudders, which were usually seen on bombers and helicopters prior. Vought was the first fighter plane ever to use it. This paved the way for the use of dual rudders on the F-14, F-15, F-18, F-22, and the F-35— all of which served or are still serving in the US military as primary aircraft. V-173 was also one of those few fighter planes with two rotors. It never really went into full production, but it was flown around 190 times. Today, it could be seen at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, Texas.

North American F-82 Twin Mustang

F-82 Twin Mustang
68th Fighter-All Weather Squadron North American F-82G Twin Mustang 46-394 MIA Mar 14, 1951. (United States Air Force, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

This aircraft was the last American piston-engined fighter ever to be produced by the US Air Force; thus, it had its first take-off at the end of World War II because the war had already ended before the first production units were fully operational. Originally, this was created as a long-range escort fighter for the Boeing B-29 Superfortress. After the war, these planes were used by the Strategic Air Command as long-range escort fighters to replace the Northrop P-61 Black Widow as an all-weather day or night interceptor. F-82 Twin Mustangs also saw the Korean War, as they were among the first US Air Force aircraft to be flown over Korea. In fact, the first three North Korean aircraft that were destroyed by the American forces were by F-82s, flown by the 68th Fighter Squadron.

EXTRA! VZ-9 Avrocar

Could the flying saucers sightings be really just Avrocars?

VZ-9 Avrocar
When flown without tethers, the Avrocar was unstable and could reach a top speed of only 35 mph. (USAF, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

It was built in 1958 as part of a secret US military project done in the early year of the Cold War as preparation for possible World War III. This vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft was developed by Arvo Canada and was intended to make of the Coanda effect to provide lift and thrust from the single turbo rotor that was blowing exhaust of this disk-shaped plane out of the rim. At first, it was designed as a fighter-like aircraft that was supposed to be capable of zooming at ultra-high speed and altitude. The US Air Force had to abandon it after the project was repeatedly scaled back over time. The US Army took over the development to use it for tactical combat requirements, somewhat like a high-performance helicopter. However, during flight testing, the Avrocar showed so many unresolved thrust and stability issues that made it into nothing more than a low-performance flight envelope. Unsurprisingly, the project was entirely canceled in September 1961.

This project was called different names throughout the program, like Project Y, with individual vehicles referred to as Spade and Omega. The US Air Force that funded Project Y-2 referred to the aircraft as WS-606A, Project 1794, and Project Silver Bug. Finally, when the US Army took over, they gave its final name “Avrocar” while the “VZ-9” part was from the US Army’s VTOL projects in the VZ series.

Super Guppy

Aero Spacelines B377SG Super Guppy. (Frank KovalchekCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Aero Spacelines Super Guppy started off as a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, one of the most successful Boeing planes at that time. Super Guppy is a large, wide-bodied cargo aircraft used to haul outsize cargo components. The Super Guppy was the only airplane ever to carry a complete S-IVB stage, which was the third stage of the Saturn V rocket, and did so several times during the Apollo program. Super Guppy looked like a flying whale, if you ask me, and that’s because an extension was put along the top of it in order to carry more freight. Nonetheless, it does a great job and serves its purpose. It is still currently active and currently operated by NASA.

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