The ten worst carrier aircraft


Building an aircraft tough and steadfast enough to operate safely from an aircraft carrier is extremely difficult. Sadly, many of the aircraft sent to operate from carriers were not good enough, with the result that thousands of men died trusting their lives to an inappropriate machine. Here’s a list of ten aircraft that should never have been sent to sea….

10. Supermarine Seafire Mk XV

The first Griffon-engined Seafires did not like being on carriers. They had a tendency to veer to the right on take-off, smashing into the carrier’s island superstructure.

Seafire F Mk XV

9. McDonnell F3H Demon

An unreliable single engine prone to compressor stalls and flame-outs, insufficient power. Oh..and a dodgy ejection seat. You can learn more about Demon losses here.


8. Supermarine Scimitar

Too much too soon. High maintenance hours, an appalling attrition rate of 51 per cent. A worse fighter than the Sea Vixen, a worse bomber than the Buccaneer.  Find the ten most expensive cancelled aircraft here


7. Ryan FR-1 Fireball

The Fireball had unreliable engines and a flawed undercarriage. It was also the wrong concept.


6. AV-8A (and to a lesser extend B)

By 2003 143 major AV-8 non-combat accidents, killing 45 aviators, destroying one third of the Harrier fleet.


5. Blackburn Firebrand

An evil, scandalous pilot-killer.


4. Westland Wyvern

“Weighing 650 pounds shy of a loaded Dakota it was nonetheless expected to operate off dinky 1950s RN carriers. Tellingly, its main claim to aviation immortality derives not from any superlative quality of the aeroplane itself but a desperate desire to escape it.” Of 127 built, 39 were lost to accidents.

Learn more about the bizarre Wyvern here.


3. Yakovlev Yak-38

The rather cute Yak-38 had a tiny range and a tiny weapon load. In some ways it had the offensive capabilities of a World War I fighter, it also didn’t like taking-off when the weather was any warmer than tepid. On a related subject, there’s a great article on Britain’s P.1154 here.


2. Blackburn Roc

A maximum speed (at sea level) of 194 mph was simply suicidal for a fighter facing the Luftwaffe’s ‘109s. Add terrible agility, no forward-firing guns and you get the idea. Wisely, the military decided the best use for it was as a static machine-gun post!


1. Vought F7U Cutlass

Today’s F-35 may get criticized for not being able to fly near an electrical storm but the ‘Gutless Cutlass’ had a very alarming tendency to flame-out in rain. Even when the engines behaved themselves it was still an underpowered flop. There’s more on Cutlass losses here.


Type selection by Combat Aircraft‘s Thomas Newdick. If you enjoyed this you will love Essential Aircraft Identification Guide: Carrier Aircraft 1917–Present

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You should also enjoy some more of our articles: There’s a whole feast of features, including the top WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. 



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  1. pickledwings

    I think the Demon and the Cutlass would have been OK had the USN not turned to Westinghouse for the engines. It’s often said that Westinghouse was responsible for crippling an entire generation of USN carrier borne fighters.

    The F-14 Tomcat could get an honourable mention here as it was an underpowered hangar queen for a good portion of its early career. The TF-30 engines it was originally fitted with were the cause of over a quarter of Tomcat losses; once the F-110 engines were fitted from 1987 things got better. That means the Tomcat spent nearly a full half of its USN service career being a fraction of the aircraft it could have been because of the dodgy and temperamental TF-30 engines.

  2. Whitemule

    Nice post.Just one comment,the Griffon Seafire in the picture is the ultimate Seafire FR Mk 47 with its pretty 6 bladed contra-rotating propeller that cured the starboard swing tendency.

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  4. Actuarius

    I thought the Seafire was the wrong one (note also the enlarged fin) but my main point is I don’t think I’d get in any aircraft called the “Fireball.”

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  6. spyintheskyuk

    When I first saw a pic of the cutlass I couldn’t believe such a Futuristic aircraft could be so early a jet. The more I read however I knew full well it would be number 1 in this list.

  7. navalairhistory

    A little unfair on the Firebrand and Wyvern, perhaps as after tortuous development they became half-decent aeroplanes. The two Firebrand squadrons were mostly made up of QFIs so accidents weren’t all that excessive. I’ll give you the Roc though – poor concept.

  8. Dave Gibson

    I see the Seafire image has been changed. However, I would nominate any Seafire purely because of its narrow track undercarriage.

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  12. sasaki

    Why not terrible Curtiess SB2C Helldiver is not in entry? I don’t mean Roc or Firebrand is better aircraft than Helldiver though…

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