As can be witnessed in popular political movements, insanity is very ‘hot’ this season. Stephen Caulfield from Suburban Poverty decided to leap on the bandwagon with this collection of 11 deplorables. Such was the quality of the entrants, even the remotely controlled stuffed cat pictured failed to make the grade.
10. Piaggio P.7
This is not a picture of a crashed aircraft waiting for a hoist out of Lake Como. The P.7 is seen here in pre-take-off position. The waterproof fuselage would lift up on hydroplanes as it moved forward. Pilots refused to fly it – the man who did try couldn’t get it to fly. Some things don’t really need to be explained.
Fu-Go balloons & Operation Outward
Women and schoolchildren built a large number of incendiary-carrying balloons entrusted by the Japanese army to the jet streams over the Pacific Ocean for delivery to North America. Such are the schemes of a dying empire. Over 9,000 were released, and they did kill people picnicking in Oregon. Fu-Gos were made from less strategic materials, including layers of mulberry-based paper squares secured with an edible glue (this programme was hampered by war-deprived workers stealing and eating said glue). This programme’s sheer insanity has brought it a certain legendary status. No, the Fu-Go bombs did not enter the dishonour roll of insane aircraft because they succeeded in burning down the forests of North America. They arrived as far away from Japan as Saskatchewan and Mexico, making them the first ever intercontinental strategic instrument of air power. They are insane in their own right.
Did you know that Britain mounted a far greater balloon campaign against Germany during the middle of World War II? No, you didn’t. It was ten times bigger, and a lot more effective, but also insane. Both programmes offer proof that science is no guarantee against insanity.
The Royal Canadian Navy had to go out and blow up the last one of these things in 2014.
8. Chyeranovskii BICh-21
Here is an entry from that Fordist font of high function, the Soviet Union. Life is hard, da. Hence the expression ‘life’s a bitch’ (note from Editor: Jesus, I hoped you were going to avoid that pun). With any luck, and maybe a residential treatment programme, it might turn out to be a BICh-21 tailless racer from the 1930s. Being easy on the eyes and being insane don’t necessarily exclude one another. For further evidence of this phenomenon, enrol in a free online dating service immediately.
7. Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenberg
Among the sorrowful artefacts and moments of the Third Reich, the manned version of the FZG-76/V-1 barely registers. It was really just another ersatz outburst (note: were Ersatz Outburst a Prog Rock band?) on the fanatical road to ruin, rubble and regret. That is to say, it was insane. Shades of the modern Middle East here – suicide as a tactical approach to lavishly equipped and larger opponents with all the advantages. Contemporary accounts rehashed for the digital era claim “it flew fairly well”. There was an apparently mirthless notion that the pilot would aim his Reichenburg and bail out. But isn’t the round thing above the cockpit a pulse jet intake? Never used in action, but WTF?
6. Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II ‘Joint Sunk-cost Fallacy’
Take a little bit from each of these entries and add eighty zillion lines of computer code. Seriously, it’s getting a little late in the day for the human race to be concentrating so much on high-tech weapons. Even if this flying laptop has a belly full of super secret weapons, that doesn’t mean it isn’t insane. Though in the last couple of years the general mood of the press has become more supportive of the F-35, the following quote from the US GAO should be considered: “DOD plans to begin increasing production and expects to spend more than $14 billion annually for nearly a decade on procurement of F-35 aircraft.”
There are two ways you can look at the F-35: if you believe high-intensity war against an advanced enemy is a possibility, you may want to consider the fact that the Lightning II was conceived to be supported in war by large numbers of high-end F-22s to protect them from enemy fighters – but the Raptors weren’t ordered in large numbers. Or if you believe that low-intensity war against irregular forces in poor countries is the more likely, you may wish to question the use of aircraft of this level of expense and sophistication. And although programme supporters have been citing the sunk cost fallacy forever, there are at least three more questions you should ask:
1. Could the high levels of situational awareness and connectivity (neither of which the F-35 currently has, reliably) be retrofitted to older platforms?
2. How long have potential adversaries had to think about countering aircraft with reduced conspicuousness in the x-bandwidth?
3. Which threats could not be handled adequately by non-stealthy aircraft with stand-off munitions?
And we’re not being all loony-tunes Russia Today in asking these questions – there is certainly more than one high-ranking member of the US Navy that has come up with answers that would discomfort Lockheed Martin.
More cynical observers might note that nobody can afford, or needs, large numbers of stealthy tactical aircraft.
5. Boeing B-52 Stratofortress ‘Dr Strangehate’
No plane spotter or other type of aero enthusiast should ever be totally comfortable with their interest. There needs to be a little psychological ‘something’ present to remind them that expressions of military might are rooted in corporate power and abuse – and are a disaster for the human race. What can we label that little something? Label it insanity. Take a wild guess how many people this eight-engine monster has killed or hurt in the last 60 or so years. B-52s have killed in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Iraq and Afghanistan. Over twelve days during the Vietnam War, B-52s dropped 15,237 tons of bombs.
In 1961 a B-52 broke up in mid-air over North Carolina. The aircraft was carrying two Mark 39 nuclear bombs, information declassified in 2013 revealed that one of the bombs came very close to detonating.
The list of accidents involving B-52s carrying nuclear weapons is also extremely scary. In 1961, a B-52 accidentally dropped a 3.8 megaton thermonuclear bomb on North Carolina! According to a bomb disposal expert who took part in the Goldsboro incident- “We came damn close to having a Bay of North Carolina”. The destruction would have been greater than that of every explosive ever detonated in history combined and would have killed everyone in a 14 mile radius – with many more being killed by radiation and secondary fires. Fortunately the weapon did not explode. Nuclear warfare remains the most insane idea of all time. The concept of nuclear deterrence is equally whacko, and rests on the premise that a leader who deems genocide acceptable can be deterred by the threat of genocide. Thanks to the nuclear deterrent, the Cold War was a period of peace, completely free of proxy wars.
At this very moment the B-52 remains an instrument of nuclear annihilation by accident and intention, and for perpetual police actions. Insanity is nothing if not durable and easily scaled up.
4. Heinkel He-177 Greif
One risk with a list like this is a tendency to drift towards late Third Reich prototypes like the Natter and its ilk. Nonetheless, from this set of German wings, we just cannot look away. You see, when engineers and other technical adepts are yes-men locked in a military-industrial complex throwing big money at ill-advised, immoral aggressions, you better go to the basement and stay there.
What a waste. A silly collection of specifications (including the expectation of an ability to dive bomb with over twenty-five tons of aircraft) resulted in major structural failures and fire-prone powerplants. The Greif typifies a couple of hundred completely whacked wartime crash programmes, and illustrates exactly why they are called that to this day. The Greif killed a huge chunk of the Luftwaffe’s test pilot cadre, probably some of the era’s best pilots. Also, it never really looked right from any angle. Insanity is a matter of perspective.
3. Piasecki PA-97 Helistat
Kiss your loved ones before you leave the house tomorrow morning. If they ask why you are crying, mumble ‘Helistat’ before turning your back on them for the last time. The Helistat concept was to combine the lifting abilities of four helicopters with a giant sausage (in fact a 1950s naval airship) full of helium to allow the transport of massively heavy payloads. Test flights were made from the Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst in New Jersey, using the ancient airship hangars. At 343 feet (104.54 metres) long, it was the largest aircraft in the world when it first flew in 1986.
On 1 July 1986, a gust of wind rocked the test aircraft, causing it to move across the ground. This in turn caused the undercarriage to shimmy uncontrollably, which led to ground resonance (an unwanted phenomenon whereby the helicopter rotors oscillate in phase with the frequency of the helicopter shaking on its undercarriage – Wiki rather neatly compares this to when clothes get stuck in one part of a washing machine during the spinning cycle). This shook one of the helicopters off its mounting, whereupon its rotors slashed the gasbag, causing the remaining three helicopters to break free. One pilot was killed, and the project was scrapped. Today, Piasecki is interested in returning to the concept with an even bigger helistat.
See the ten coolest cancelled helicopters here.
2 . Fly-powered art aircraft ‘Wasp Factory-build’
Sometimes life finds us riding a bus at night, crying and laughing simultaneously. Other times, we stay in and build powered model aeroplanes. Animals are put on this Earth for our entertainment, apparently. You can see the aircraft here.
At least no death is involved here, unless you count the flies.
1 – Yokosuka MXY-7 Ohka ‘cherry blossom’
A ‘manned bomb’ with three solid fuel rockets, and yet so much more. Let the term ‘manned-bomb’ term sink in a little, maybe even say it out loud to yourself if there’s no-one else in the room. The ‘cherry blossom’ looks a bit like a spritely orange prop reject from a Star Wars movie. Cute, yes – but thoroughly insane. These desperate things actually entered service and rearranged several United States Navy vessels (there was over a ton of explosives inside each one). It flies straight into its target.
It’s hard to know the exact calculus involved in determining the difference between a heroic dangerous assignment in war and an inhuman act of forced martyrdom – however you do the maths, being an Ohka pilot was a shitty posting.
Stephen Caulfield cleans limousines around the corner from what was once the Avro Canada plant. He appreciates writing, art, aeroplanes and the tragic nature of modernity in pretty much equal parts these days. His contributions to Hushkit.net have included the very tasteless The top popstar-killing aircraft manufacturer of all time, the bizarre Top ten most-whacked undercarriage, the widely discredited Bermuda Triangle and this lovely ode to the C.102 jetliner.
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