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These Are Some Of The Oddest Cold Wαɾ Aircraft Designs

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The Cold Wᴀʀ gave us plenty of weird and interesting aircraft designs.

Aviation may have matured and settled down now, with the next generation of aircraft not looking so different from what is generally accepted as standard aircraft designs. For example, the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner hardly looks any different from other passenger aircraft, while the F-35 Lightning II looks very much like a fighter aircraft.

But that wasn’t always the case. Especially after WW2, when there had been huge breakthroughs in aviation and the world was in a competition between the Soviets and the West. In this time we see many weird and wonderful aircraft designs. Here are some of the strangest Cold War aircraft designs.

10. Aero Spacelines Super Guppy

Unlike many others in this list, the Super Guppy was built in the 1960s and is still in service today. This wide-bodied cargo plane is used for transporting oversized cargo.

Five of these aircraft were built, one of the SG variant and 4 of the SGT variant. Four of them are now in museums around the world or broken up. The fifth is the Super Guppy Turbine N941NA, and it remains in service in NASA, being based in El Paso in Texas.

9. Grumman X-29

Most aircraft we see today are designed with swept wings, some (like the C-130 Hercules) are designed with straight wings. But the Grumman X-29 was built to test a forward-swept wing design.

Two were built and operated experimentally by both NASA and the United States Air Force. The first flew in 1984 and were tested until 1991. Both are now on display in the United States

8. Edgley Optica

This highly distinctive British-designed aircraft was also colloquially called the “bug-eye”. The Edgley Optica was first flown in 1979 and entered production in 1983. A total of 22 of these odd-looking aircraft were built, with the 23rd being left unfinished.

Notably, 10 of them were destroyed during an arson attack on its factory. Amazingly, as of 2019, the successor company today is seeking investment to restart the production of these oddballs.

7. NASA AD-1

The NASA AD-1 was an experiential aircraft built to test the notion that the wings could be pivoted from zero degrees to 60 during flight.

This strange aircraft was flown some 79 times to test it between December 1979 and 1982. Only one was ever built, and today it is on display at the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, California.

6. Short SC.7 Skyvan

This boxy-looking aircraft was another British build. It was produced between 1963 and 1986 and saw around 149 built. It was nicknamed the “flying shoebox” or the “shed”.


While most are now retired, some are still in operational use for air to air photography, skydiving, and aerial geological survey work. Two of these were used by Argentina during the Falklands War and both were ultimately destroyed by the British.

5. Sikorsky X-Wing

It wasn’t just the West building bizarre aircraft. With the Sikorsky X-Wing we have an odd attempt by the Soviets to build a compound helicopter.

The Sikorsky X-Wing had its first flight in 1979 and there were two built. The conception of this aircraft was to complement rather than replace conventional helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft

4. McDonnell XF-85 Goblin

Built right after WW2, the XF-85 shows us that even Goblins can fly. The XF-85 Goblin was intended to be taken aloft and to defend aircraft as a parasitic fighter. Only two were ever built. Its first flight was in 1948, and it was canceled the following year in 1949.

One issue with the air force was that fighters did not have the range to fully protect the bombers, so there was an idea for basically the aircraft to carry their own fighters.

3. Hughes H-4 Hercules

The H-4 Hercules was a 200-ton monstrosity built by the United States. One mind-bending fact about this aircraft was that it was built of wood due to wartime resource restrictions. It was intended for trans-Atlantic flight and only one was ever produced, and it only flew once.

Dubbed the “Spruce Goose” (even though it was made mostly of birch), it is now on display at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon.

2. Vought V-173 “Flying Pancake”

UFOs and flying saucers are reality — apparently. While it wasn’t actually a Cold War design as it was produced during WW2… but how could we leave out a flying saucer from the list? Only one was ever built, and it included an “all-wing” design, giving it a disc shape.

This flying machine can be considered as a success as it proved a theory put forward by Zimmerman of near virtual takeoff and landing aircraft could be achieved. The Air Force put the lessons learned into creating more usable aircraft.

1. Convair XFY Pogo

The advantages offered by vertical takeoff aircraft have long been sort after. Today, the F-35 achieves this. But it was an interesting story of how we got here. The Convair XFY Pogo was designed as an early vertical takeoff aircraft. This aircraft was intended to be a high-performance fighter able to take off from small ships. Only one was ever built.

Even though it showed vertical takeoff was possible, it was also extremely difficult and dangerous. Transiting was extremely difficult.

In summary, there have been many interesting and strange designs during the Cold War and this is only scratching the surface.