Sunday, September 11, 2016

Beautiful Rubbish

 The axiom 'if it looks right it'll fly right' has more than enough exceptions to ensure it shouldn't be taken seriously. Most obvious examples are ugly, highly successful aircraft (it's often forgotten that the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II was initially regarded as so ungainly it was said to have been 'delivered upside down') but there's also a dishonourable list of beautiful failures.

A good pair would be the British Bristol 188 (above) and the American Douglas X-3 Stiletto (below).

Both experimental aircraft from the golden age of probing the supersonic possibilities, both essentially failures - to be fair, both more to do with inadequate engines than airframe issues, but it has to be said their concepts were ultimately found to be unviable. Another connection is that both featured exotic metals in their primary construction. Stainless steel in the Bristol and Titanium in the Douglas, and both providing major headaches for their manufacture.

What other beautiful failures can you think of?


  1. Nice opening choices James. Two very elegant designs that promised much during a time of rapid advancement. It seems to me that many of the beautiful failures still contributed valuable lessons or just appeared too early/late. Let's add the CAC CA-15 to the list. Not a failure of technology but perhaps a failure of priority making it too late.

  2. Thanks folks. I think the CAC CA-15 and the MB-5 belong in another list. In both cases there was no failure of the design, but that the need was superseded. In the case of the MB-5, all the records indicate it was a superlative design. The reason I chose the Bristol 188 and Stiletto is there's very few aircraft that 'look' faster - but neither was actually very fast at all. The XB-70 is probably a category of its own!