The future was bright when longtime airline manufacturer McDonnell Douglas modernized air travel with the DC-10. The DC-10 was introduced in 1971 and would revolutionize air travel by making it affordable to the masses. In a few years, however, tragic safety failures tagged the jumbo jet with the label “death trap.”It was responsible for the worst flight disaster ever when a DC-10 taking off from Paris crashed in Turkey killing 346 people.
Two years later, a crash shortly after takeoff in Chicago killed 271 people. It seemed like the DC-10 and McDonnell Douglas would never recover. Amazingly, the company repaired the flaws and its reputation, and the DC-10 turned out to be one of the world’s most successful passenger jets. In February of 2014, the DC-10 flew its last flight, retiring the vessel for good.
The Vought F7U Cutlass
The Vought F7U was once flown as a Blue Angel for the Navy until navy men refused to pilot the flight hazard that earned the nickname the “Gutless Cutlass.” Out of the 300 F7Us built, a full one-quarter were destroyed in accidents due to engines that did not have the right stuff.
But when the F7U Cutlass was introduced, it looked like a modern marvel. Sleek design elements featured a blunt, tailless plane, the first of its kind. The wide and imposing sweptwing was believed to be the fighter jet of the future. It featured hydraulically powered controls, but most of the crashes were due to poor hydraulics and not enough thrust. Twenty-five Navy pilots were killed flying the F7U, and many more quit on the spot after flying it.
The Bell YFM-1 Airacuda
With such a clever name, how could the Airacuda end up grounded? Bell Aircraft Corporation put the YFM-1 Airacuda into the skies on September 1, 1937. The futuristic aircraft was armed with speed and fighting power. A set of 37mm cannon gun turrets were mounted on both wings. Design missteps ultimately rendered the interceptor useless. Besides being heavy and slow, lacking maneuverability, the weaponry almost literally backfired, in one case, filling the gunners’ compartment with smoke.
The plane had no backup cooling system and they were vulnerable to overheating. Designed for turbo supercharging, the reality generated barely 1,000 horsepower per engine. These and other problems resulted in the Airacuda being shelved after just one squadron was produced.
The Fisher P-75 Eagle
During the World War II-era, demand for aircraft was high. President Roosevelt rushed a request for 50,000 new airplanes per year in May of 1940. The Fisher P-75 Eagle was an attempt to help fill the order. Touting the fighter as a “wonder plane” with the fastest rate of climb and the most aggressive artillery, General Motors and Fisher pumped the interceptor designed for the Air Force out in a year. The fighter craft was named to represent a fierce combat machine.
The P-75 harks back to the French 75 gun, a savage piece of weaponry symbolizing German defeat. In the end, the P-75 Eagle did not deliver. Acceleration rates missed expectations, engineers failed to calculate properly the fighter pilot’s center of mass, and the engine cooling system was insufficient. Only 14 were built, and the program was canceled. No one wanted their plane.
The Wright Flyer
In 1903, The Wright Flyer completed the first airplane flight. 120 years after balloon aviation, Orville Wright piloted his craft for a miraculous 59 seconds. That’s right, his flyer traversed 852 feet over the beaches of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in just under a minute. It was one of several attempts that day by Orville and his brother Wilbur Wright.
The last landing was so turbulent it broke the craft’s front supports. Soon after, a swift wind tumbled the Wright Flyer into somersaults. The damage prevented it from ever being flown again. It may seem like a failure, but it ushered in the age of aviation and the invention of the modern airplane as we know it today.