A Brief History
On March 25, 1958, the Canadian supersonic interceptor, the Avro Arrow made its first flight. Designed to fly at Mach 2+ it seemed like a good airplane, but was mysteriously cancelled prior to production, with all partly assembled units and prototypes destroyed. Other promising weapons have suffered the same fate, some of which may well have been effective while others faded away due to insurmountable problems. Here are 10 weapons that are distinguished by their novelty, size, or unrealistic projected abilities.
10. Avro Arrow.
A supersonic interceptor designed to shoot down Soviet bombers with air to air guided and un-guided missiles, including nuclear armed missiles. Designed and built in Canada, with possible markets in Europe as well, it was cancelled abruptly with inadequate explanation resulting in much speculation as to the reasons why. Since the feared Soviet bomber attack never came, the Arrow would never have fulfilled its mission even had it been built.
9. Nakajima Kikka.
Based on the successful German Me-262 turbojet fighter, the Kikka was developed too late to be used against US bombers, and of the 20 or so examples made, only 2 were complete enough to have flown. Not quite as big or as capable as the Me-262, the Kikka still would have been an improvement over the piston engine fighters Japan was fielding toward the end of the war and may have taken a serious toll on allied aircraft and ships.
8. Project Habakuk.
A British idea to use sawdust mixed with ice (called pykrete after inventor G. Pyke) to form an enormous unsinkable aircraft carrier intended for use against German U-boats in World War II. Such a vessel would perhaps start as a natural iceberg smoothed flat and coated with pykrete, hollowed out to house aircraft and crews. Requiring a length of at least 2000 feet in order to accommodate heavy bombers, further requirements that the “ship” be torpedo proof and able to withstand any wave the ocean could throw at it made development extra difficult and time consuming. Engine pods would be mounted on the sides, but designers never did figure out how to steer such a sea monster. Nowhere near as stupid as it first sounds, this project might have gone into production if it had been ready before the war ended.
7. P-75 Eagle.
General Motors got into the airplane business with what would have been an impressive piston engine (propeller driven) fighter plane in World War II, but like so many weapons, events moved faster than the airplane could be developed and only 13 of the 2500 ordered were ever made. Kind of a composite of several previous aircraft rolled into one, the Eagle would have been fast (433 mph) and climbed like nothing else, as well as having a devastating 10 X .50 caliber machine gun armament. By the time it would be ready for mass production the war would be over or nearly over and the current production of P-51 Mustangs was not only adequate to do the job, but much cheaper as well. In any case, jet aircraft would make the Eagle obsolete even as it rolled off the assembly line.
6. Panzer VIII Maus.
Designed by the Germans in World War II as the largest tank (or any enclosed armored land vehicle), this monstrosity weighed over 200 tons (US) and stood 12 feet tall, 12 feet wide, and over 33 feet long! Armed with a 128 mm main gun and an additional 75 mm gun (and a machine gun for protection against enemy foot soldiers) the Maus had an impressive 1200 horsepower engine to move it along at only 8 mph. Oh, and it would only travel 40 miles off road before running out of fuel. Weighing nearly as much as 4 fearsome Tiger tanks, you might think the Maus (German for mouse) would not be cost effective or efficient, especially since no normal bridge could hope to support its weight, but Adolf Hitler was fascinated by outlandish and huge weapons so it probably would have been produced if the Soviets had not overrun its factory. Only one complete prototype was made.
5. YB-49 Flying Wing.
Intended to become the main nuclear weapon delivery system, this “tailless” bomber intrigued aeronautical engineers with the inherent advantages of such a layout. Of course, there are also disadvantages to every design, and in the case of the YB-49 the lack of computers to monitor and control the flight of the futuristic looking bomber meant the USAF would select the B-36 as its heavy nuclear bomber instead. The YB-49 was in itself an evolutionary advancement from the YB-35, and the B-2 Spirit is the modern version, now complete with all the necessary technology to make the flying wing concept work.
A joint venture of Germany and the US in the 1960’s, the MBT-70 was supposed to be developed to serve both countries as their main battle tanks. With a huge 152 mm gun that could also be used to launch anti-tank guided missiles and with a hydro- pneumatic suspension to allow the tank to take advantage of terrain by “kneeling” down or raising itself higher, development was taking too long and costs were skyrocketing. The last straw was that the tank would have been obsolete before it was fielded, causing both countries to cancel the project and build completely new tanks (the M-1 Abrams and the Leopard II).
3. USS United States CVA-58.
This ship was to be the first of a proposed 5 enormous aircraft carriers authorized by President Truman in 1948. The mighty ship would be different from any other previous (or subsequent) aircraft carrier in that it would carry 12 to 18 heavy bombers instead of the traditional smaller bombers usually on ships. Over 1000 feet long and 190 feet wide, the behemoth would require over 5000 men to crew the ship and its airplanes. Cancelled less than a week after the keel was laid, the event caused an uproar known as “Revolt of the Admirals” and caused the Navy Secretary to resign. Ship protection would have been provided by 8 X 5 inch guns, 16 X 3 inch guns, and 20 X 20mm automatic cannons (huge machine guns). The US Navy instead received 4 USS Forrestal class carriers, the first carriers with angled flight decks.
2. The “Spruce Goose.”
More correctly known as the Hughes H-4 Hercules, the giant wooden flying boat with 6 massive propeller engines only had one example built and only flew once, for a short distance. One of Howard Hughes’ pet projects, the H-4 was made of plywood, not spruce, and was designed to carry 750 soldiers. Intended for use during World War II, development took longer than expected and the war was over before the plane was ready. The project was cancelled, and although Howard Hughes promised he would “leave the country” if the project failed Hughes did not leave, though he kept 300 men employed keeping the giant aircraft preserved! (That number was reduced to 50 after 15 years.)
1. XB-70 Valkyrie.
What would have been the fastest bomber ever built, the Soviets designed the MiG-25 Foxbat specifically to shoot it down. Designed to fly at Mach 3 at high altitudes, the Valkyrie was made obsolete before it flew when Soviet anti-aircraft missiles became capable enough to make high altitude bombers almost useless, regardless of speed. The Concord SST Mach 2 airliner (now retired) was its legacy.
Question for students (and subscribers): Tell us the never deployed weapons you think should be on this list in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Miller, Lawrence. The Avro Arrow: The story of the great Canadian Cold War combat jet — in pictures and documents. Lorimer, 2014.