The Rockwell XFV-12 is another experiment in vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) that wound up in the dustbin. The futuristic-looking jet fighter was a sleek machine and a promising concept, but the Navy decided it was a failure and scraped the project in 1981 before the aircraft was ever able to lift off the ground and fly, literally burdened by its own weight. With costs ballooning and other developments, like the Harrier showing success, the Rockwell XFV-12 was let go.
Relegated to the dustbin of military technology, the two prototypes are now stored in a hangar somewhere. The ill-fated XFV-12 has yet to be preserved by any aeronautics or military air museum.
The Dassault Balzac V
The Dassault Balzac V represents the French attempt to harness VTOL technology. Built by Dassault Aviation for the French Air Force in the early 1960s, there was only one example, a prototype aircraft, and it barely made it off the test flight runway. Dassault modified its existing Mirage III supersonic jet fighter to create the lightning-fast VTOL aircraft. The one-seater Balzac V prototype was built without weapons, but it had teeth. The aircraft holds the record for the fastest VTOL aircraft ever made, hitting Mach 2.
It was on October 13, 1962, when the Balzac V achieved its first hover flight. Unfortunately, it won zero awards for safety. By January of 1964, the Balzac V crash landed during a test flight and killed the pilot. The aircraft was repaired and tested again, but it crashed and killed another pilot. The damage was beyond repair. Since it was the only model, the second crash effectively ended the program.
The Tupolev TU-144
The Soviets won the race to build a supersonic passenger jet on par with what would be called the Concorde just two months later, but it lost big on functionality. After three embarrassing crashes, one of which lit up the Paris Air Show in 1973, the Soviets were reluctant to even fly it. It completed only one passenger flight per week, but communist-style pricing would never make back the cost of the project. Everything was cheap, even the toilets didn’t operate, and then a smash landing, which had to be decelerated by parachutes, ended the ordeal.
It must have been satisfying to beat the British to the tarmac and to annihilate American competition as Congress surrendered their supersonic passenger jet plans in 1971, but after just 55 round-trip flights, the TU-144 was retired from commercial flights. Ilya Grinberg, an expert on Soviet aviation at Buffalo State University explained to CNN, “It was loss of interest in the program by the Soviet leadership as well as Aeroflot top brass. They’ve had enough of the headaches associated with this highly complex program. There were no real economic incentives to use it in the Soviet domestic markets.”
The Baade 152
German engineer Brunolf Baade was the mastermind behind the idea of converting a WWII jet bomber into a passenger airliner after the war ended and the need for bombers evaporated. VEB Flugzeugwerke Dresden took up Baade’s plan to build Germany’s first airliner. Three Baade 152s were built and testing at the Dresden Airport commenced in 1956.
During testing, an entire crew was lost after the airliner crashed on March 4, 1959. Continued testing revealed an issue with fuel supply had caused the plane to malfunction. The program was canceled, and no airliners went into production.
The Grumman X-29
This experiment in flight innovation by Grumman for NASA and the U.S. Air Force plainly flopped. Built with wings that look backward, called forward-swept wings, this design feature of the X-29 was supposed to optimize handling and maneuverability. Jet fighting at supersonic high speeds, with tight turns, even with the nose pointing straight up, was to be a breeze in the Grumman X-29. As it turned out, pilots could not even command the beast without autopilot.
While computer flight control is a miracle of aeronautics, the Grumman X-29 was unmanageable without it. The plane became completely unstable, no pilot could fly it. The experimental plane flew a total of 436 test flights and remained an active program from 1984 to 1992. Yet, while the aerodynamics of the X-29 failed, the research the aircraft provided was a boon to fighter jet technology.