Shocking Airplane Designs That Never Made It to Production

The world of aviation could've been dramatically different

When you think—or read—about the future of flight, it's difficult not to get excited. From relatively mundane (but impending) changes, such as the introduction of the next generation of Boeing 777s, to the idea of traveling from London to Sydney (or vice-versa) in less than four hours, it seems clear that aviation's best days are ahead, not behind.

And yet, if you look back over the past century, and pay attention not to the designs that made it, but to the ones that failed, airports would look very different these days. Different and more interesting, with all due respect to respect to Boeing, Airbus, Embraer, Bombardier, and the rest of the commercial aircraft manufacturers dominating the runways today.

  • 01 of 05

    De Havilland Comet: The Prototype

    De Havilland Comet
    oxyman via Wikimedia Commons

    You probably didn't know that the world's commercial jetliner was a massive failure. Then again, you probably didn't realize that a plane called the Comet, manufactured by the now-defunct De Havilland Corporation, was the plane in question.

    That's because mandatory re-designs of the unsafe Comet allowed other planes to be developed in the meantime, namely the Boeing 707, which many people incorrectly believe was the world's first major jet.

  • 02 of 05

    Boeing 2707: Concorde's American Cousin

    Boeing 2707
    nubifer via Wikimedia Commons

    Speaking of Boeing, the infamous American airplane manufacturer's history is not entirely one of success—add a "2" in front of the name of the iconic 707 and you'll see why. In the late 1950s, around the same time engineers across the pond were cooking up Concorde, Boeing decided to investigate a foray into supersonic travel.

    Unfortunately, the U.S. government (who was subsidizing the study) deemed it wasteful and unproductive, which sent the hopes for an American answer to Concorde to the dumpster just a few years after Concorde took flight.

  • 03 of 05

    MD-12: The A380's Ugly Granddad

    MD-12
    Anynobody via Wikimedia Commons

    Although Boeing and Airbus remain the two primary mainline jet manufacturer's today, the past was a bit more diversified. Namely, the McDonnell Douglas company, whose legacy lives on through the large MD-80 and MD-90 fleets operated by airlines like American and Delta.

    Those airplanes and, in a strange way, the Airbus A380. You see, back in the early 1990s, then-fledgling McDonnell Douglas began to research a double-decked, four-engine passenger jet, which was bigger but also uglier than the elegant 747, the undisputed Queen of the Skies. Dubbed the MD-12, it received no orders, and some believe it was the first of many nails in the company's coffin.

  • 04 of 05

    The Spruce Goose: Yes, It Was Real

    Spruce Goose
    Clemens Vasters via Wikimedia Commons

    Officially named the Hughes H-4 Hercules, this behemoth 1940s plane boasts the largest wingspan in aviation history, it was made of wood due to wartime rations of metal—although notably, this was birch, not spruce.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Goodyear Inflat-o-plane: Because Why Not?

    The Goodyear Inflat-o-plane
    Public domain

    It's kind of shocking to discover that Goodyear made an airplane, in spite of what a household name the company is when it comes to tires.

    Perhaps less shocking is the fact that said airplane was inflatable—Goodyear did make blimps famous, after all, the company's penchant for tires notwithstanding. Needless to say, this didn't bode well for its future: The plane was developed for military use.