Smoke On Go

Some of the all-time ugliest aircraft ever…

One of aviation’s oldest clichés is that if an airplane looks right, it’ll fly right. Ugly and beauty is defined by one’s own outlook: what is ugly to you might be beautiful to me.

Some of these dogs flew just fine and were oddly configured simply so they could fulfill their mission, whether it was extra large cargo or crop spraying.

Others barely made it into the air and were a danger to their pilots and anybody below them. But aviation would be the poorer if it didn’t have aeronautical engineers willing to take such risks.

Burt Rutan designs are a case in point. Not all Rutan designs are classically beautiful, some were downright ugly, and some needed to go back to the drawing board.

Here, then, are a few of our nominations for this week:


The PL-11 Airtruck crop duster is a New Zealand agricultural aircraft.  The pilot was placed high above both the engine and the chemicals hopper, and the perch gave him a superb view for low-level manoeuvring. The PL-11 Airtruck was developed from the Kingsford Smith PL.7 as a replacement for the de Havilland Tiger Moth in the New Zealand aerial topdressing market. 


The Beluga was developed to transport Airbus parts to the final assembly plant in Toulouse, France. And while it’s very good at doing its job, it isn’t exactly the best looking aircraft in the sky. Beluga is a version of the standard A300-600 wide-body airliner modified to carry aircraft parts and outsize cargo. It received the official name of Super Transporter, however, the name Beluga, a whale it resembles, gained popularity and has since been officially adopted.


This Polish-designed jet-powered Ag spraying aircraft was very unique. But it also resembled a modern type Wright Flyer. The PZL M-15 was a jet-powered biplane designed and manufactured by the Polish aircraft company WSK PZL-Mielec for agricultural aviation. In reference to both its strange looks and relatively loud jet engine, the aircraft was nicknamed Belphegor, after the noisy demon. 


Military aircraft need to be capable. But it’s also a bonus if they look good. And while the X-32 had the capability part covered, it did so while looking like a Pelican with a throat pouch full of food. The Boeing X-32 is a concept demonstrator aircraft that was designed for the Joint Strike Fighter competition. It lost to the Lockheed Martin who developed the F-35.


Maybe the Carvair was the inspiration for the Boeing 747, but it did so while looking like a cartoon version of Boeing’s design. The Aviation Traders ATL-98 Carvair is a retired large transport aircraft powered by four radial engines. It was a Douglas DC-4-based air ferry conversion developed by Freddie Laker’s Aviation Traders Limited, with a capacity generally of 22 passengers in a rear cabin, and five cars loaded in at the front. This particular example stood for many years at Rand Airport.


Definitely ugly, no matter what you say. This aircraft was designed by Frenchman Alexandre Goupil in 1883, the Duck wasn’t built and flown until Glenn Curtiss found the plans and put together what would today be called a replica.


Hill and Westland had plans for a whole series of the Pterodactyls, including a flying-boat and an airliner, but only four were built. The Pterodactyl Mark V which had a 600-hp Rolls-Royce Goshawk steam-cooled engine and was intended as a fighter. The theory was that the tailless configuration would give the rear gunner an almost unlimited field of fire with his pair of synchronized Vickers guns.

Test pilot Harald Penrose was soon demonstrating the Pterodactyl’s stability, and even performing aerobatics as well as flying it inverted. But a landing accident damaged the sole Mark V and further work on Hill’s designs was abandoned in the mid-1930s.


The Mc Donnell XF-85 Goblin was designed to be carried in the bomb bay of a Convair B-36 as a parasite fighter and launched to fight off attacking aircraft. The XF-85’s intended role was to defend bombers from hostile interceptor aircraft, a need demonstrated during World War II. McDonnell built two prototypes before terminating the program.




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