Wednesday, January 30, 2013

No Volleyball Allowed

Ha! You thought I was joking. But now here you are, reading a post about airplanes.

Today's post started with just the top ten "cool" planes in my opinion, but there's been so many cool planes throughout history that I just couldn't limit myself like that. So because I can't pick favorites you're stuck here, reading about twelve planes. Incidentally, I hate flying.

P-51 Mustang

The ubiquitous P-51, first seeing use in World War II. It's traditional role was protecting bombers but also saw use as a dive bomber itself as well as work in reconnaissance. It was finally replaced by jet fighters in the Korean War, but even then it still served in a dedicated bomber role. Other countries continued to use it well after that even, especially Bolivia. How long after? Try the 1980's.

And if that's not enough, there's a rare few planes that look as good in chrome as the P-51.

Also, what's better than one P-51? How about two of them!

Supermarine Spitfire

It had an illustrative carrier in the Royal Air Force and it's elegant design lead it to earning a permanent place in British culture. That's all there is to it really.

Focke-Wolfe Fw 190

And then you have the villains. The Fw 190 had one of the best air-cooled radial engines of any plane, even well after the war. When it was introduced it flew circles around the P-51 and would only be outmatched by a radically redesigned Spitfire about a year later. Allied pilots called them the Butcherbird.


Incidentally, it wasn't the Fw 190 that made that wonderful, terrifying sound when it dive bombed. That was the Ju 87, which was outfitted with a special "Jericho's Trumpet" just for the occasion. When the Stuka went into a dive the siren would start to sound, making that haunting whine, alerting everyone of their impeding doom.

Vought XF5U

First of all, that's The Flying Flapjack to you. Second of all, stop laughing.

The Flapjack was an experimental aircraft. Though what it was made to test, I can't begin to imagine. What I do know is that it was almost inappropriately durable, surviving accidents that would outright destroy less breakfast-shaped planes, including landing upside down. Sadly for the Flapjack, it was built just as jet technology was starting to develop and was quickly made obsolete. The Flapjack was scrapped, but because it was so ridiculously strong they had to use a wrecking ball to actually destroy it.

Plus, how many aircraft are there that you actually get to call a flying saucer while remaining completely serious?


A joint venture between France and the UK, the Concorde was the worlds first and only super-sonic airliner. Unfortunately, the project was wracked with numerous technical problems, even long before the infamous crash in 2000. Because of it's slim profile, the interior was surprisingly cramped for such an expensive flight. Overheating on the body and issues with structural integrity abounded. Apparently the Concorde was just too fast for it's own good.

But then again: Supersonic. Airliner.

Harrier Jump Jet

There have been a couple different versions of the Harrier over the years but all of them are famous for their vertical take off and landing capabilities. It takes off like a helicopter but flies like a plane!

Oh and before you ask, no that wasn't a Harrier that raced a Bugatti Veyron in that one episode of Top Gear. At least I think it wasn't...

Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit

There are few planes as sinister or as geometrical as the B-2. Really, have you ever seen so many right angles on one plane?

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

Often accompanied by P-51's, the B-17 was a huge, heavily armored bomber with an almost mythical reputation after pictures started to circulate of them returning to base riddled with bullet holes and huge chunks of their wings missing. True to their name, the Flying Fortress was almost impregnable, bristling with plexiglass turrets along it's surface. Altogether, B-17's accounted for an overwhelming majority of Allied bombs dropped during the war, like, almost all of them.

Bachem Ba 349

Oh boy, where do I even begin with this?

Built as an interceptor, the Ba 349, or Natter, was a bizarre combination of dwindling supplies and improving technology. It wasn't jet powered, oh no. It was rocket propelled. Some poor sap would climb in, and take off vertically like any other rocket. Then, he would try and steer the contraption toward incoming bombers and shoot, what else, rockets from the nose to destroy them. The Natter was basically a guided manned missile, made of balsa wood no less. And it shot rockets. And it had extremely flammable rocket fuel. What it didn't have was landing gears. When the rockets sputtered to a stop the victim pilot was expected to parachute out, leaving the popsicle-stick rocket to plummet out of the sky and explode. Note that this was mostly wishful thinking and it rarely ended like that.

Honestly, I'm completely in love with the Natter. It's such an extraordinarily bad idea it swings around and goes back to good. Plus, it's not that bad looking. I actually like it's stubby wings and cigar shape.

Sadly thankfully, the Natter saw almost no use, so there's no way of telling how effective it would have been. Though with so many rockets flying around it's hard to imagine something not exploding in a huge fireball.

Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk

More sinister, more triangular than anything that came before it, the geometrical malevolence of the Nighthawk has yet to be surpassed by any other plane.

The Nighthawk was the first plane built exclusively with stealth in mind. At the time, researchers were starting to understand that a planes radar signature was more or less unrelated to it's size and depended more on how the signal bounced off the hull. With this in mind, they started to build a body that would reflect radio waves no matter what angle they came from, bouncing and diffusing the signal, rendering the F-117 all but invisible to radar.

Though the press called it a "stealth fighter" the F-117 wasn't intended to fight other aircraft, partially because it's priority was stealth, not speed and would be too sluggish for the task. In reality, it was almost exclusively a bomber.

Nonetheless the government denied the existence of the Nighthawk for the first seven years of it's operational history and tried to suppress any evidence of it's existence. A single photo was eventually leaked, depicting a grainy image of what might have been the plane, leading to speculation concerning a top secret super-fighter. By the way, can you guess where it made it's maiden flight back in 1981? Groom Lake, better known as Area 51.

Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II

Too slow, too old and too useful to ever get rid of. The Thunderbolt II has survived over forty years of continued usage and multiple attempts at retirement. A great many of the Thunderbolts flown today are twice as old as their pilots, with electronics comparable to the original Atari 2600, yet they're still seeing service in a world of bleeding edge ultra-modern fighters. Why is an old clunker still in service? For one, they're extremely durable; capable of taking huge amounts of punishment that would outright vaporize less sturdy planes. Apparently, an A-10 can be missing one of it's engines, half it's tail and even one of it's wings and still make it back to base.


Besides that, the A-10 has a huge number of weapons it's compatible with, including the shockingly large GAU-8 Avenger rotary cannon, the heaviest such weapon ever mounted on something someone expected to fly. The whole plane is built around the gun, which it then uses to cut tanks in half.

Plus it looks like a shark.

Lockheed SR-71 "Blackbird"

This is it; the fastest, stealthiest, most evil looking plane in the world. Oh, that isn't an exaggeration either, it's an objective statement of fact. To date, the SR-71's speed record has never been surpassed. Any time a new plane is built that break's the Blackbird's record Lockheed responds by simply going a bit faster. Despite having been retired for fifteen years, it still holds the record for the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft in the world. As such, the plane's maximum speed is a complete mystery. It's so fast that when it's been targeted by surface-to-air missiles standard operation procedure was to simply outrun the missile.

The SR-71 was built to replace the aging U-2 spy plane. To put that in perspective, it's like replacing your Kia Rio with the Batmobile because you didn't like how it gripped the road in the turns. The SR-71 didn't just fly fast though, it  routinely operated at altitudes that would cripple weaker, less diabolical aircraft. Plus, it was stealthy, almost as much as it's decidedly more triangular successor, the F-117. It achieved this with exotic compounds in it's skin as well as cesium-based compounds in it's fuel to limit the signature of it's exhaust. Despite this, Soviet detection technology quickly outpaced the SR-71 and it was slowly fazed out by spy satellites. Still, I have yet to see a more villainous looking aircraft and that certainly counts for something.


mom said...

I gotta show this to Lou. he probably has most of these in RC form.

Linda said...

My goodness this must have taken a long time to research. It's crazy how many planes that look so menacing are on here. Too bad they don't have a museum of all these planes together.

Shadgrimgrvy said...

I think the Smithsonian does, they've got everything there. But it would shock me to see a Ba 349 in any kind of display condition, or heck, anything that isn't just twisted shrapnel.

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