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  • Writer's pictureMr Wings

6 ambitious aeroplanes that never took off

It's a sad truth that many amazing aeroplanes never make it off the ground. Whether they're hampered by budget constraints, technical problems, or simply bad luck, these aircraft never get to realize their potential. Here are six examples of ambitious planes that never made it past the prototype phase. While disappointing, each of these planes offers a unique glimpse into what could have been.

1. Lockheed L-133 Starjet The end of World War II was the dawn of the fighter jet. The German Messerschmitt Me-262 entered military service in 1944, while the first American fighter jet used by the United States Army Air Forces (the predecessor to the U.S. Air Force) was the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star, introduced the next year. It turns out, however, that the United States had been working on a design for a jet-powered fighter six years earlier before the Japanese even attacked Pearl Harbor.

It was called the Lockheed L-133 Starjet. The L-133 design outlined a fighter powered by two Lockheed L-1000 turbojets that would use a canard design to assist with the lift. The Army Air Forces rejected the proposal in 1942, and Lockheed instead developed the simpler and more practical P-80.

2. Saunders-Roe SR.177

The Saunders-Roe SR.177 was an ambitious attempt by the British Royal Air Force to develop a combination jet- and rocket-powered interceptor to defend against the threat of Soviet bombers. But a new military budget laid out by the U.K Parliament in 1957 cancelled the project. The research paved the way for the similar Saunders-Roe SR.53, two of which were built and underwent flight tests. The second prototype of the SR.53 crashed in an aborted takeoff on its 12th flight test, exploding on impact and killing the pilot.

3. WS-125 As the Cold War iced over in the 1950s, the Air Force wanted a nuclear-powered super-long-range strategic bomber. The Soviet Union wanted one, too, but both countries struggled to find a way to incorporate shielding strong enough to protect the crew from the radiation of a nuclear reactor in their plane. In the U.S., GE partnered with Convair to build a nuclear bomber, while Pratt & Whitney worked with Lockheed. Neither team succeeded. After a billion dollars went into the design and development of a nuclear aircraft engine, the project was cancelled in 1961. Some ideas just aren't meant to get off the ground. 4. Lockheed L-2000 The L-2000 was Lockheed's attempt to secure a government contract to build a supersonic plane. The United States wanted a supersonic passenger jet to rival the Anglo-French Concorde and the Soviet Tupolev Tu-144. Lockheed and Boeing had done several "paper studies" on SST designs, and both were eager to secure funding from the government to develop a prototype. After both companies' designs were rigorously examined, the Boeing 2707 was selected for funding in 1967. The L-2000 was never built at all.

5. Boeing 2707

The 2707 was the United States' first try at developing a commercial SST. The aircraft's design had a drooping nose similar to the Concorde's, though it was intended to be much larger and fly much faster than the European jet. Designs accounted for a maximum capacity of 300 passengers and a cruising speed of Mach 3. The original design for the Boeing 2707 also incorporated a swing-wing platform, allowing the wings to stay straight on takeoff and landing for increased stability but retract into a swept position for improved aerodynamics at supersonic speeds. The mechanism needed proved too heavy, however, and engineers were forced to scrap the idea and redesign the plane with a traditional delta wing. Construction started in the late '60s on two 2707 prototypes, but trouble developing a metal skin that could withstand the extreme heat of supersonic speed, as well as environmental and noise pollution concerns, led the government to pull funding for the project in 1971.

6. High-Speed Civil Transport

The High-Speed Civil Transport (HSCT) was the focus of NASA's High-Speed Research program, which was supported by multiple American aerospace companies through the 1990s. NASA began developing technology for the supersonic passenger jet in 1990. The HSCT was to travel at a cruising speed of Mach 2.4 and have room for 300 passengers. The program carried on the research of the Concorde, Tu-144, and American SST program, though the development of the HSCT was cancelled in 1999. More recently, NASA and Lockheed Martin announced a partnership to work on a new supersonic demonstrator aircraft, one designed to reduce the noise of a sonic boom.

These aeroplanes were certainly very ambitious for some of their proposed capabilities. Who knows what would have happened if they actually flew! Alas, we may never get to see their true potential be realised, but they will always live on in the memory of the aviation world.

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