Axed! The trillion dollar list of shame: The Ten Most Expensive Cancelled Aircraft

ImageThe amount that has been spent on aircraft projects that have been cancelled is colossal. In assembling this list I’ve been surprised a few times: the Bristol Brabazon didn’t make it, yet a few in the top five I hadn’t even considered. I’ve tried to be sensible, not including projects that spawned actual aircraft- like the B-1A, but including radical variants like the two cursed Nimrods.

I’ve avoided aircraft where no figures where available (so no Sukhoi T-4 or XFV-12). With so many variables to get wrong (unreliable figures, time and currency conversion rates among many) I accept that this is at best a rough guide. I do however hope you enjoy it and that, in a small way, it serves to highlight the wasteful nature of the weapon procurement process.

Note that only one of the aircraft on this list was built for commercial use!


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10. Saunders-Roe Princess £10 million in 1950 prices


9. Hughes H-4 Hercules $23 million in 1946 dollars (circa $275 million in 2013 figures)


8. British Aerospace Nimrod AEW3 £1 billion 1986 pounds


7. British Aircraft Corporation TSR. 2 £450 million in 1965 pounds. More on TSR.2 hereImage

6.Martin P6M SeaMaster $400 million in 1953 dollars (circa 3.4 billion in 2013 dollars)


5. McDonnell Douglas A-12 Avenger II circa $2 billion in 1991 dollars (3.44 billion in 2013) + ongoing legal fees. Check out the ten worst carrier aircraft.Image

4. BAE Systems Nimrod MRA4 £3.8 billion in 2010 pounds


3.Boeing-Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche circa $7 billion in 2004 dollars (8.67 in 2013 figures). This reminds me, here’s what helicopters do in Hollywood


2. Northrop XB-35 $522 million in 1946 (6+ billion)


1. North American XB-70 Valkyrie $1.5 billion in 1966 dollars (10.81 in today dollars)


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You may also enjoy 11 Cancelled French aircraft or the 10 worst British military aircraftSu-35 versusTyphoon10 Best fighters of World War II , Su-35 versus Typhoontop WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Flying and fighting in the Tornado. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? Try Sigmund Freud’s Guide to Spyplanes. 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. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 10 great aircraft stymied by the US

Edit: Convair 880


  1. Pingback: All helicopters blow up: The Hollywood guide to planes: what they do in movies | Hush-Kit
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    • duker

      The plane was fine, simply the existing Nimrod, it was the radar developer who were the complete clowns- or rather the people who gave them the development contract. ( Intriguingly the wikipedia entry makes no mention of radar developers name Marconi, who at the time had never built an airborne radar
      The obvious choice was the rotating radar from the E-3 hawkeye. Worked fine on the Orion later on .
      Still does for US Customs ?

      • Barrie Robinson

        I was seconded to Canadian Marconi from Marconi UK as computer bloke. I found that Canadian Marconi beat out ALL the big guns in the USA for contracts for Doppler navigator units for years. The UK radar was excellent but completely bungled by Marconi insane ideas on marketing. I could have walked away with the contract for 3 ATC radar sites in Canada but the UK buearacrazy declined because they tought their equipment would be reverese engineered>

  3. Aditya

    I know they weren’t cancelled as much as losing candidates, but how much did prototypes such as the YF-23 Black Widow and the Boeing X-32 cost? Must’ve been a pretty penny. At least the YF-17 Cobra ended up becoming the Hornet…

  4. sean morgan

    Most of these were built in response to a requirement. However, if they take too long to develop, the requirement could change as do the enemies. Also some were overtaken by better technology. Makes no sense to just build it anyway.

  5. Mark

    The only way to learn is through Experimentation ,with new technology, and new materials, which is through trial and error.

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