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Six crazy planes that actually flew

Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Sunday, May 25, 2014, 12:01 AM - Given how much pilots rely on weather forecasts, we at The Weather Network consider our mandate to include aviation.

Our latest foray into the wild blue yonder was a story of the Lancaster Bomber at the Warplane Heritage museum in Hamilton, Ont. It's one of only two remaining in the world that are actually cleared to fly, and it's heading to the U.K. this summer to join its counterpart there for a series of shows.

That Second World War icon was clearly a solid design, flying great since being restored in 1988. But there's more than a few aircraft designs that took a few liberties with the basic principles of flight, making it into the air in the weirdest way possible.

Here are six of the weirdest things that ever flew.

de Lackner HZ-1 Aerocycle

Image: US Army

Image: US Army

This has been called the “Segway of the skies,” a comparison which only works if you ignore the fact a Segway isn’t likely to turn you into hamburger if you put a foot wrong.

The US Army threw money at the de Lackner HZ-1 Aerocycle in the 1950s, in a bid to come up with a one-man recon aircraft. Its design allows a pilot to partially control it just by shifting his weight, while those handlebars allow steering.

With a top speed of around 110 km/h, it was surprisingly versatile, and after a successful test run, the military ordered 12 of them for further testing.

And we must say, it looked pretty awesome:

The guy handling it in the archive video above seemed to know what he was doing, fitting for its inventor (though when he goes “no hands,” it’s hard to ignore the fact he’s standing above those spinning rotors of death with only a safety harness to secure him).

But the test pilot they recruited to really run it through its paces had a rougher time, suffering two crashes. According to the military, they couldn’t account for why the spinning blades malfunctioned as they did, and the project was discontinued.

Avro Canada VZ-9 Avrocar

Aaaaah, the 1950s. The Cold War was slowly ramping up, the culture was changing, and folks were all abuzz about visitors from beyond, straining to catch a glimpse of bona-fide UFOs zipping through the skies.

And if you don’t actually spot one, never fear! The government will straight-up build one for you.

Enter the VZ-9 Avrocar:

Image: Bzuk / Wikimedia Commons

Image: Bzuk / Wikimedia Commons

Yep. It’s a flying saucer, made with the same Canadian know-how and ingenuity that produced the legendary Avro Arrow. Anxious to create a cutting edge super-sonic bomber, the Canadian government poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the awesome-looking project.

Unfortunately, when the money ran out, Ottawa pulled the plug, but the concept seemed so promising, both the United States air force and army stepped in to fund the project.

The USAF wanted it as a specialized bomber aircraft, while the army saw its role as a funky “flying jeep.” Neither got what they wanted. It turned out, although the initial theory suggested the design could reach speeds of up to 480 km/h (according to this site paying homage to the feats of Avro Canada), the fastest it ever went was around 56 km/h. It wouldn’t work as a military aircraft.

And there was another problem, that scuppered the army’s plans as well as the navy’s: Once it reached a metre or so off the ground, it became dangerously unstable (seemed to work awesome up until then, though. Scroll through to the 0:35 mark in the video below).

The US military moved on to other projects, cancelling the Avrocar in 1961.

Caproni Ca.60 Noviplano

The First World War wasn’t long over when Italian aviation designer Count Giovanni Caproni really kicked his airplane design business into high gear. He designed numerous prototypes over the years, but there was always bound to be a few duds in there, and his occasional failures were often spectacular. 

Take a look at this luxury liner of the skies, the Caproni Ca.60 Noviplano:

Remember: That footage was shot in 1921, three years after the guns fell silent over the trenches. Sure, the war’s fanciful biplanes and even triplanes must seemed have seemed like a glimpse of grander things to come, but even with the technology moving forward by leaps and bounds, the Noviplano was ridiculously ambitious.

With eight powerful engines, three sets of triple-decker wings and a capacity of 100 passengers, this was supposed to be the first true long-range airplane, designed to reach top speeds of 120 km/h according to this site.

Its actual achieved height: 18 m. 

The huge and unwieldly vehicle barely made it off the waters of Lake Maggiore during its first flight before it dove right back down, suffering major damage.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Luckily, the pilot escaped unharmed, and Caproni apparently intended to try again after repairing the hulk. He never got the chance, as it caught fire shortly afterward.

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