The 10 least green aeroplanes

The 12 nastiest aircraft ever made

Aeroplanes are wonderful and terrible. Though they have made the world smaller, they have also made it dirtier and more endangered. In this top (or bottom) 12 we will look at aircraft that are particularly filthy as solo artists – and ones that have proved so popular that their net effect is globally terrifying. Set watches for doomsday, and let’s meet 12 of the worst offenders that ever flew.

12. Fairchild C-123 Provider ‘Bad Healthcare Provider’

Agent Orange was just one of a diabolical gang of quaintly-named Rainbow Herbicides. Inspired by British use of toxic jungle-killing chemicals in the so-called ‘Malayan Emergency’*, US forces attempted to expose Viet Cong forces by removing the cover allowed by dense jungle, and to destroy crops to starve them out. Secretary of State Dean Rusk advised President John F. Kennedy that the British cop-out* had established a precedent of legality. A decade (61-71) of air deployed anti-crop and defoliation efforts left the ground poisoned and resulted in massive long-term health problems and terrible birth defects for the unlucky civilian population.

*One benefit of the British repeatedly to avoiding the term ‘war’ was that accusations of military chemical warfare could be denied, as this was a ‘policing’ action.

11. Messerschmitt Me 163/North American X-15 ‘Rockets to the crypt’

Horribly toxic rocket fuel and high altitude flight make these two speedsters particularly bad. The 163 flew more, but the X-15 flew higher and so increasing its environmental effect.

10. Avro Lancaster ‘Av-death-row’

The worst aerial attack in European history in terms of structural damage was on Hamburg on 27 July 1943. 787 RAF aircraft – 353 of them Avro Lancasters* burnt 18,000 civilians to death in a firestorm that destroyed much of the city. Across World War II, Lancasters flew a total over 156,000 sorties and dropped over 608,000 tons of bombs.

9. Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress ‘Memphis Smell’

In World War II, B-17s dropped a staggering 640,036 tons of bombs. The nearest rival to this, the B-24, dropped 452,508 tons of 464,500+ tons released by all other U.S aircraft types.

(the rest were 74 Vickers Wellingtons, 116 Short Stirlings, 244 Handley Page Halifaxes)

8. North American XB-70 Valkyrie ‘Viking Sky Burial’

Generally speaking the higher a jet aircraft flies the worse its environmental impact. Flying at an extraordinary 70,000–75,000 ft (21,000–23,000 m) the Valkyrie mach 3 bomber, with six General Electric YJ93 was an absolutely filthy beast. Airframe-for-airframe the six-engined Valkyrie was the least Green aircraft in history.

7. Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird ‘Trisonic Plague’

Though three times less damaging to the environment than the XB-70, the SR-71 flew many more hours at extreme altitudes. It is not known (at least to us) whether its special JP-7 jet fuel was better or worse than standard fuel.

The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes is a gorgeous heavily-illustrated – and often irreverent – coffee-table book covering the history of military aviation from 1914 – the present. Volume 2 is now crowd fund-raising through advanced pre-orders here.

6. Boeing B-29 Superfortress ‘Carbon Sasquatch Footprint’

One dropped atomic bomb releases about 690m tonnes of CO2, and destroying cities with firebombs is also not so green. The B-29 competes with the B-52, B-17 and Lancaster as the most destructive aircraft in history and may edge ahead of both in terms of C02.

5. Boeing 747 ‘Jumbo Number 5’

With a cruising height of 35,105 feet, four engines and many long-haul routes, the 1,500 747s made have done an awful lot of damage. Considering there were single 747s with more than 136,569 flight hours alone, then the 747 has a huge grubby footprint.

4. Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde ‘The shitting aristocrat’

Spending more time per airframe at supersonic speeds (at extremely high altitudes) than any aircraft in history, Concorde’s green credentials were pretty damn poor. It was also one of only two airliners (the other was the Tu-144) that used afterburners. Add to that its contributions to acoustic pollution and the most beautiful machine in human history starts to look very ugly. The Soviet Tu-144 was even dirtier but didn’t fly very much.

3. Boeing 737 ‘The price of success’

As with anything, there is evil in the large-scale, so the effect of the extremely popularity of the Boeing 737, which in itself is not the worst, is sobering. For total net effect, rather than dirtiness per airframe, the Boeing 737 has to be the worst. With 264 million flight hours under its petite belt. The A320 series (essentially a European 737) is also a prime offender due to its popularity.

2. Boeing B-52 Stratofortress ‘The Dirty Reaper’

Between 6 and 8 million tons of munitions were dropped or launched during the Vietnam War (this compares with 2,057,244 tons dropped by US bombers in World War II), around 1000Ibs for each Vietnamese citizen. The majority of this figure was by USAF, and much of the USAF total from its heaviest bomber, the B-52. The Vietnam air campaign featured the longest and largest aerial bombardment. The B-52 has probably killed more people than any other aircraft as well as taking part in part in more atomic weapons test than any other aircraft (its closest rivals for nuclear weapons test are likely the Tu-16 and Tu-95). Even when it is not bombing the B-52 is a dirty bastard, one flypast from the eight-engined dinosaur is akin emits “as much carbon dioxide as 130 average mid-size cars emit per year.”

  1. Messerschmitt Bf 109 ‘Fritz Harm Man’

Blaming World War II on the ‘109 is not as ridiculous as it first sounds. The Blitzkrieg method of combined fighting required air superiority, and until the arrival of the Fw 190 in 1941, Germany had no first-class single-engined fighter other than the Bf 109. Neither the invasion of France, the trauma of ‘Fighter Day’ or the attempted invasion of the USSR could have been considered without the 109. World War II was a catastrophe for the environment and CO2 emissions and it could not have happened without the nasty little 109.

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The Hush-Kit Book of Warplanes is a gorgeous heavily-illustrated – and often irreverent – coffee-table book covering the history of military aviation from 1914 – the present. Volume 2 is now crowd fund-raising through advanced pre-orders here.


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