The Harrier supersonic jet is a military feat of the invention that hit the blueprints of American and European aircraft manufacturers in the 1950s, shortly after the Korean War. The goal to produce a jet fighter that could navigate as precisely as a helicopter using jet boosters for vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) was achieved by 1969. Harriers were first used in combat during the Vietnam War.
The Russian version of the Harrier took its first VTOL flight in 1971. The supersonic jet could graze a Mach 1 speed, but the Soviet’s version proved impractical for military purposes. Its voracious jets consumed so much fuel that the Yak-38 was limited to a 200-mile range. It had no radar, making the aircraft a weak defense fighter. Hardly armed, its air-to-air defense was limited to small missiles with a range of only 5 miles and a couple of cannon pods. The Yak-38 went out of production by 1991.
The Lockheed Martin VH-71
The now-defunct Lockheed Martin VH-71 was supposed to be the presidential helicopter, but its mission failed miserably. After the Pentagon canceled the program, President Barack Obama described the problem saying it’s an “example of the procurement process gone amok.”
Translated: The $3.3 billion projects was way too expensive. An affordable program took its place to provide the Marine One presidential helicopter. Incidentally, Marine One had always been a Sikorsky aircraft, until the contract with Lockheed.
The Sikorsky S-76
A bad track record has not prevented this helicopter from being a very common aircraft that is often used for business. In fact, the Sikorsky S-76 is the very helicopter that went down, killing Kobe Bryant and eight others. While mechanical failure is not attributed to the crash, some point out that the S-76 was not equipped with a crash detecting system called a Terrain Awareness and Warning System.
In 2002, a mechanical failure smashed a Sikorsky S-76 into the North Sea, killing five and leaving six stranded at sea. Another fatal accident happened in 2005 when the helicopter crashed into the Baltic Sea just short of Tallinn, Estonia. This time it was the S-76’s main rotor forward actuator that was responsible for killing all 14 people on board. Again, in 2015, a Sikorsky S-76 crashed into a tree in Indonesia on March 21. The crew and four passengers survived. The cause of the crash was a mechanical failure involving the main rotor servo push rod connection.
The PZL M-15 Belphegor
This beast of a plane was created in Poland to modernize Soviet agricultural programs. Specifically, the PZL M-15 Belphegor was to be used for crop dusting over the communist nation’s vast farmlands. The first prototype was tested in 1973. But ultimately, the aircraft lived up to its name. A Belphegor is a demon prince from hell who tricks people into making useless inventions.
The PZL M-15 was a costly project which was completed and presented at the Paris Air Show in 1977, where it came away with its nickname, ”Belphegor” for its ugly appearance. It was a massive disappointment. The biplane, jet-powered crop duster was not only expensive to make but also to operate, and users criticized it harshly. The hulking farmhand hit a maximum speed of just over 120 mph. A year later, the Soviet Union canceled all further orders.
The NB-36 Convair Crusader
In the 1940s, the U.S. Air Force thought it would be a good idea to develop a bomber with a nuclear reactor mounted inside the tail of the plane. It was meant to test the feasibility of nuclear-powered aircraft. Granted, they encased the nuclear reactor with 11 tons of lead to protect the crew, which included two nuclear engineers, but chances were, an accident would cause serious radioactive contamination.
This plane was not powered by nuclear energy, six jet engines actually propelled it. But it was provided jet thrust by harnessing nuclear-heated air. The first test flight hit the skies in the summer of 1955. The NB-36 could hit 420 mph and weighed 357,500 pounds. It flew a total of 47 flights before President Eisenhower decided the program was unnecessary which was probably influenced by public concern about a nuclear reactor flying over homes.