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Since the first controlled, sustained flight of a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft in 1903 and the first wartime use of aircraft for reconnaissance and bombing in 1911, military aviation has grown exponentially. With that rapid development has come a plethora of designs intended for an ever-expanding menu of roles. As the state of aircraft technology has advanced, so has the quest for greater size, speed, maneuverability, range, armament and load capacity.

The field of aircraft design continually reinvents itself to accommodate innovations in structure and engines. In the case of military aircraft, the fundamentals of flight must coexist with the need to incorporate cameras, bombs, guns and/or missiles. When the emphasis falls on the military task, aeronautical considerations are sometimes of secondary importance.

Thus it was perhaps inevitable that both factors—basic airframe and payload—could inspire deviant and even grotesque designs that in retrospect left posterity scratching its head. These examples represent but a fraction of the eccentric aircraft initially perceived as game changers only to fall by the wayside of advances in military aviation.

“What were the designers thinking?” one might ponder. Often the answer was war—or at least a Cold War—during which the quest for a military edge prompted air forces to give any promising proposal a whirl. The failure of many such experimental designs was no doubt attended by that universal excuse, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” MH

this article first appeared in Military History magazine

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