10 Cool Airplanes that Will Never Fly Again

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There are a lot of good reasons that some airplanes will never — and in some cases should never — fly again. Sometimes the safety, economic or logistical obstacles are just too great. Sometimes the airplane is just too valuable an artifact of the glorious history of flight to risk it. Sometimes, it’s all of the above. Here’s a look at some famous and some less well known aircraft that for better or for worse will never fly again.

What Makes It So Cool… Conceived in the early 1950s, the XFY Pogo was one of two entrants in a competition to develop a true vertical landing and takeoff airplane that could do what no helicopter could — fly at very high speeds and land and take off in the space of its own shadow. The XFY was lifted off and touched down rocket style on a spindly set of legs at its rear. After liftoff, it would then be transitioned to conventional forward flight. Pogo was flown by its legendary test pilot James “Skeets” Coleman, without whose amazing piloting skills the Pogo project quite probably would have come to an early and loud conclusion. Pogo was powered by an Allison AT-40 turboprop blasting out 5,850-shp while driving a pair of 16-foot props in contrarotating alignment. To land, the trick was to zoom to a vertical stop, then reduce power to let the craft settle down to the ground, all the while fighting the airplane’s own propwash. It was nearly impossible to pull off, but Coleman did, and Pogo made many dozens of flights, achieving conventional top speeds of greater than 400 knots, fast by propeller driven standards but far slower than the supersonic jets of the day.
Where It Is Now and Why… Pogo was not only extremely difficult to fly but also not fast enough to perform the missions the military needed it to do — the Harrier would be that airplane. Pogo development was halted in the mid-1950s. The last remaining Pogo of three built, and the only one of the trio to ever fly, is held by the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, though it is not currently on display. Bill Larkins via Creative Commons
What Makes It So Cool… Messerschmitt’s diminutive single-engine rocket plane was actually built in sizable numbers toward the end of World War II. The rocket ship would blast off from a small strip as Allied formations flew by overhead, climb at speeds unattainable by any plane of the era and intercept the bombers, usually B-17s, before heading back to base ultimately as gliders after the plane’s rocket fuel ran out.
Where It Is Now and Why… A number of Me 163s survived the war, a handful finding their way to England. Only one captured Komet was ever flown, and not under power; the volatility of the rocket fuel used in the plane was notorious. At least 10 Me 163s survive to this day, and all of them are in permanent display status at museums around the world. Three reside in the United States, one at the Smithsonian Udvar Hazy Center, one at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Ohio, and one in Paul Allen’s collection in Paul Allen’s Flying Heritage Collection in Everett, Washington.
What Makes It So Cool… Like many of the airplanes featured here, Howard Hughes’ colossal amphibious transport, which is officially designated the Hughes H-4 Hercules, was a technological laboratory for the latest materials and technologies of the day. Early on critics of the program nicknamed the giant flying boat “Spruce Goose,” a name they felt was evocative of the silliness of the idea that such a thing as a flying supply ship made any sense at all. It really didn’t. The “Spruce Goose” nickname was catchy enough that it stuck, despite there being very little spruce involved in the construction; in fact, the H-4 is mostly made of a birch plywood composite material.
Where It Is Now and Why… The Spruce Goose was the biggest airplane ever built in its day, and it is still the longest-winged airplane of all time, with a span of 321 feet. It weighed 250,000 pounds empty and had a payload of 150,000 pounds, a figure no plane before it came close to. The ‘Goose didn’t actually fly until after the war was over, and even then it only flew once. Many believe it never truly “flew” but just rose up in ground effect. Still, few question whether or not it could fly. The test hop was impressively stable. After its first (and at the same time its last) flight, the H-4 was retired to a specially constructed hangar where hundreds of workers kept it in flying shape, though it never did fly again. Later it was moved to Long Beach Harbor, where it was on display next to the Queen Mary for years. Today the Spruce Goose makes its home at Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Oregon. It is so large the museum itself would have to be torn down to set the Spruce Goose free.
What Makes It So Cool… The controversial aircraft designer Jim Bede created the BD-10 to be a very light single engine jet — a kit built one at that — capable of supersonic flight. Controversial from the start, the BD-10 was designed for a single GE J-85 engine, a pair of which power the supersonic Northrop F-5. The 2,950-pound thrust J-85 turbojet engine would in theory power the BD-10 to speeds up to Mach 1.4. That never happened. In fact, the jet never surpassed Mach .83, according to reports, and its range, originally targeted for 2,000 nm, was limited to less than half of that. There were also incidents of structural damage to the tail section after normal flight.
Where It Is Now and Why… Five airplanes were eventually built, three of them by startup companies aiming to get military contracts with the jet. Three of them crashed, two after breaking up in midair, killing the pilots in all three cases. Two BD-10s remain, one on display in a museum in Canada with no engine and the other owned by a Phoenix fuel additives company. It has apparently not flown for 15 years. We hope the trend continues.
What Makes It So Cool… One of the most extraordinary aircraft ever built, the delta canard configured XB-70 Valkyrie, dreamt up in the late 1950s, looks futuristic even by today’s standards. It was, however, a victim of the march of ground-based technology. Built to fly at altitudes in excess of 70,000 feet and at speeds over Mach 3.0, the atomic bomber XB-70 was built to outfly the surface-to-air missiles of the day. Soon, however, missile technology improved to the point that no matter how high airplanes flew, they were vulnerable to missiles. Two XB-70s were built and were extensively flight tested even after the hugely expensive program was canceled. The engineers at North American faced numerous challenges but none were more daunting than keeping the aircraft from literally melting at the plasma-like temperatures created with high-supersonic speeds. To meet the challenge, North American came up with new sandwich skins that combined various materials to best combat supersonic overheating. The XB-70’s configuration also took advantage of the shock wave created by the leading edges, channeling them toward the wing’s bottom to ingeniously create lift from the shock wave.
Where It Is Now and Why… One XB-70 remains. It is in the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. The second Valkyrie was destroyed during a photo shoot when an F-104 chase jet flown by legendary test pilot Joe Walker inexplicably collided with the bomber, destroying the F-104 flown by Walker and killing him, along with Carl Cross, the copilot of the Valkyrie, who was unable to eject after the plane went out of control.
What Makes It So Cool… Piper’s entry into the very light single-engine jet market was an expensive mistake for the company but a fascinating experiment for aviation technology junkies. The jet was powered by a single Williams International FJ44 turbofan and was targeted to hit a cruise speed of 360 knots and fly up to its ceiling of 35,000 feet, neither of which happened. Due to a less than stellar market response, Piper changed design plans in midstream, creating the roomier and more attractive derivative called the Altaire, which never flew. The engine installation was particularly interesting. Piper worked with Williams to develop a vectored thrust nozzle to help stabilize the airplane during power changes, a challenge in any plane with a high mounted engine.
Where It Is Now and Why… The PiperJet is at the Florida Air Museum in Lakeland, Florida, where it is likely to stay, delighting visitors with a first hand look at a Florida aircraft project that sought to push the limits of personal flight but never really got off the ground. Valder137 via Wikipedia Creative Commons
What Makes It So Cool… Concorde, a joint venture of France and Britain, is one of only two supersonic commercial aircraft to ever enter service — the other, the Soviet Tupolev Tu-144, flew just over 100 commercial flights over its short service history and suffered two fatal crashes early on. Concorde, on the other hand, flew thousands of commercial flights over the course of 27 years, until it was retired a few years after its only crash, departing Paris in 2000. Concorde holds a special place in aviation history as a Mach 2 airliner that successfully did its thing, connecting specific city pairs with mostly water between them at speeds more than twice as fast as a 747. Concorde is well known by aviation enthusiasts and the general public alike, though only enthusiasts are aware of the airplane’s remarkable performance and features. Concorde is powered by four Rolls-Royce Snecma Olympus engines, each churning out 32,000 pounds of thrust (38,000 with afterburner). Despite its useful load of 245,000 pounds, most of that was reserved for fuel. Engines like that don’t sip fuel; they guzzle it. Its cruise speed, Mach 2.02, was only slightly less than its maximum speed of Mach 2.04, and the nose of the airplane was designed to dip down on approach so pilots could see the runway over it.
Where It Is Now and Why… The end of Concorde is often associated with its only accident, the fatal crash in 2000 of an Air France flight departing Paris Charles De Gaulle that killed 113, including four people on the ground. But the airplane flew for a couple of years after that, until both Air France and British Airways, in the face of continuing high expenses and losses, ceased operations. There are still a number of Concordes on display and in storage in Britain, France, at the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, and elsewhere. None are airworthy or operational and there are no plans to make them so. See more Concorde photos here. Eurocopter via Wikipedia Creative Commons
What Makes It So Cool… Voyager, designed by Burt Rutan to be the first aircraft to circumnavigate the globe nonstop and unrefueled, was one of those rare airplanes that for a time captured the imagination of the world. When the craft completed the flight, its pilots, Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, were hailed for the heroic achievement. It was perhaps the last great atmospheric aviation accomplishment. And the world took notice. In order for Voyager to make it around the earth unrefueled, it had to obviously carry a lot of fuel. Voyager had an empty weight of 2,250 pounds, about the same as a Cirrus SR22 powered light plane. While the SR22 has a maximum takeoff weight of 3,600 pounds, Voyager’s max takeoff weight was nearly 10,000 pounds, for a useful load of nearly 7,500 pounds. Voyager was indeed, as one aviation journalist referred to it, a “flying fuel farm.” And a pretty one at that.
Where It Is Now and Why… Voyager hangs in the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in downtown Washington, D.C., as it was, with the left wingtip ground off, a mishap that took place as Voyager was lifting off and a good reminder of just how risky that amazing flight was. See more aircraft designed by Burt Rutan here.
What Makes It So Cool… One of the greatest names in aviation history, the Space Shuttle was the United States space program’s next step after moving on from the staggeringly expensive, disposable rocket days of the Apollo program. The term “shuttle” conjures up the notion of cheap and easy regular transportation over the short haul. When it came to the Shuttle, nothing could have been further from the truth. The flight program ran 30 years, from the first flight of Columbia in April of 1981 to the last flight, of the Shuttle Atlantis, in 2011. Total cost of the program was more than $200 billion, and each launch cost nearly half a billion. There were 135 flights, including two well known tragedies, of Challenger, which exploded on launch in 1986, and of Columbia, which broke apart upon reentry in 2003. The Shuttle was launched by two solid rocket booster engines of 2.8 million pounds of thrust apiece. After reentry, the Shuttle would be dead-sticked in for a landing. It was the world’s largest and fastest glider.
Where It Is Now and Why… The Shuttle was massively expensive to operate and required a level of infrastructure that would be close to impossible to replicate. For a variety of reasons, the Space Shuttle is inarguably an aircraft whose flying exploits are historical. The aircraft themselves, however, are still here. All four remaining shuttles are on display at museums and institutes of higher learning. See more Space Shuttle photos here. Craigboy via Wikipedia Creative Commons
What Makes It So Cool… Everybody recognizes the Wright Flyer, the first airplane to ever carry aloft a person on a powered flight — Gustave Whitehead supporters, calm yourselves. Those of us who followed the lead up to the 100th anniversary flight reenactment in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, know that the airplane was a handful to fly. Light and very marginally stable, it was not built to withstand the rigors of regular sustained flight. But it did fly, if only barely. We’ve seen so many photos of the Wright Flyer, or at least the same few photos over and over, that we forget the airplane is an oddity by today’s standards. It is a canard (small front wing acting as an elevator) pusher (engine facing backward) with wing warping (instead of movable control surfaces), and a prone pilot (instead of giving him a seat). Almost no design standard established by the Wrights on the Flyer, short of it having wings, has survived in conventional aircraft design.
Where It Is Now and Why… The Wright Flyer never took to the air again after its fourth and final December 17, 1903, hop. That flight ended in a crash, and the airplane went into storage. After a long and complicated history filled with intrigue, the Flyer finally made it in 1945 to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C. While it’s the actual airplane, it has replacement props and major parts of the engine have long since been swapped out. It has also been recovered at least twice. The airplane, a national treasure, will surely forever be displayed as such. The Wright Flyer isn’t the only such airplane; others, like the Spirit of St. Louis and the Bell X-1, are historically priceless aircraft that will forever be static artifacts of great achievement in flight. See more Wright Brothers photos here. WPPilot via Wikipedia Creative Commons
Want more? Check out Flying’s Top 25 Coolest Aircraft for some of the most awesome and unique airplanes. Click here to view the list. Or check out our Top 100 Airplanes: Platinum Edition for our list of the best aircraft ever! Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.


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