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 Rockwell XFV-12
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 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 de Havilland Comet G-ALYY
The de Havilland Comet was the first commercial jet airliner, and it proved that commercial flight could be possible. The British produced this post-WWII dream machine in 1949 when jet travel for the average person was just unimaginable. In 1952, the Comet made it came true and the public flocked to travel on the big beautiful aircraft that could cruise at the unprecedented height of 40,000 feet, providing a smooth ride above the turbulence of weather. And then the problems started to set in.
A couple of runway takeoff mishaps shook public confidence but watching two of them explode in the sky ended it. In order to fly at such altitudes, the makers had to pressurize the plane. Pressurization in commercial jets was a new technology. Some design flaws couldn’t handle pressurization in the cabin and the Comet ripped open at vulnerabilities, like the corners of square windows which were fatigued over time.
The HZ-1 “Aerocycle” Heli-vector
Designed to be a personal helicopter, the U.S Army developed the Aerocycle as an experimental program that would convey soldiers, like a cavalry of massive dragonflies, over the ocean to battles on land. The Aerocycle promised battlefield mobility far exceeding motorcycles or infantry vehicles. It could hit 65 mph and patrol a range of 150 miles. The military hoped that soldiers could be trained on the craft after 20 minutes of practice, but that turned out to be the demise of the machine.
The Aerocycle proved to be unsafe for inexperienced pilots. Two crashes were caused when the spinning rotors struck each other and spun the craft out of control. Windy conditions created another weakness, and the project was ultimately scrapped. If you want to see one, a HZ-1 Aerocycle is on display at the U.S. Army Transportation Museum at Fort Eustis.