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Most Exotic Operational Aircraft

Mamerto Adan is a feature writer who is back in college once again. Science is one of his favorite topics.


Fans of Heath Ledger remember all too well his famous Joker quote. When he robbed a bank in The Dark Knight’s opening scenes, he mentioned the following:

“I believe whatever doesn’t kill you, simply makes you stranger.”

Well it’s hard to connect the lines to our topic here. But in the case of modern technology, our relentless pursuit of perfection sometimes made things stranger. Function calls for some out of the box designs, which caused the overall image of an object to be a bit unnatural. It’s not always a bad thing, though it will affect how it looks.

And now that we speak of strange designs, the constant evolution of aviation technology had given birth to some airborne monstrosities. Again function is the key here. How the aircraft will function, and how well it does its job will dictate how it will look like. There are some aircraft designs that stayed sleek but futuristic. The F-35 Lighting and F-22 Raptor are good examples. But sleekness is meant to be sacrifice if the job is unconventional. Be warned. What will you find below will amaze you, but made your head scratch all the same. Because below are some of the strangest aircraft designs that ever flew in the skies.

But First...

Aside from a couple of exceptions, you won’t find any experimental aircrafts here. What are in the list are fully operational flying vehicles. Now it’s no surprise that experimental aircrafts are meant to be odd. They are built for odd jobs after all. But what’s interesting is how some aircrafts in operation today retained their weirdness. But then their oddities are what sets the apart from more normal looking flying machines. As long as they did their jobs well, people will learn to get pass the strange façade.

Special Mention, the X-32


Despite being a prototype aircraft this deserves a mention due to the fact that it’s incredibly ugly. By the time that aircrafts hit the air to shoot each other, we have grown accustomed to sleek and rugged fighter planes. I mean WWI biplanes flown by aces have an iconic romance in them. The same could be said to the WWII fighters. If they have one thing in common, they are things of beauty and grace. And the jet age fighters inherited their good looks as soon as the F-86 Sabre streak into the sky. And after seeing a lot of F-15s and being awed by F-22, people are left scratching when they saw the X-32.

Now the X-32 is a contender for the Joint Strike Fighter Program (JSF). The JSF is meant to replace a wide range of strike fighters, from strike and ground attack. Hence the program also required a fighter jet that could hover. Boeing’s entry is the X-32, and in their attempt to submit a hovering jet design, they ended up with a stout plane with a gaping front intake. Critics laughed at it for having a resemblance to a fat bird with a hippopotamus mouth. As it turns out it looked that way because the large intake could feed a lot of air in the engine during hover.

In the end Boeing lost and the X-32 found its home in the museum.

Another Special Mention: The Russian Ekranoplan


Formally it is known as the KM (Korabl Maket), which means “ship prototype in Russian. But it earned an infamous nickname “The Caspian Sea Monster.” Aside from the fact that it is the largest aircraft from 1966 to 1988 (301 feet long) it behaves differently by flying low, really low. This type of aircraft uses ground effect to skim across the sea at 352 mph. The program later gave birth to the Lun class ekranoplan, an armed version bristling with anti-ship missiles.

Airbus A300-600ST /Airbus A330-743L


Honestly it looks cartoonish than functional, but it delivered what it promised. This Airbus model was nicknamed the “Beluga”, for obvious reasons. It resembles a winged whale due to its signature bulging fuselage. I’m not sure if this will be called the “hump”, or “bulge”, but the swollen body serves a special purpose. It is meant to carry large payloads, and the massive fuselage ensures maximum carry. In fact its cargo deck is greater than the C-5 Galaxy, an already massive jet.

By the way, the original Beluga was already retired and was replaced by the Airbus A330-743L, or Beluga XL.

SR-71 Blackbird

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The name sounds romantic, while its overall shape looks so alien. Meet one of the most potent warplane of the Cold War era. The SR-71 Blackbird never carried bombs or guns, but the Soviet Union became so weary of the spy plane due to the secrets it could disclose. For one thing its strange shape (flat and sleek) is made to deflect radar. In fact it earned the nickname “Habu” (a pit viper) due to its appearance. Another is that it could streak in the sky at Mach 3, faster than most Soviet fighters. It proves to be an effective spy plane, too stealthy and too fast to intercept.

B-2 Spirit


And now we just discovered what caused the UFO sightings, for this jet looks so unworldly. People often considered this stealth bomber as an aesthetically pretty aircraft. It looks graceful as it is deadly. It could cruise undetected to enemy territory to deliver its load of smart bombs. Yet with its flying wing design and black body, this aircraft belongs to a sci-fi movie.

F-117 Nighthawk


But before the B-2 Spirit took flight, an even unworldly looking aircraft was already terrorizing the skies. The F-117 gained publicity during the Persian Gulf War. Its heavily angled body coated with black stealth paint is meant to deflect radar. By the time it first took flight, its ability to evade radar and the exotic looks gave it a sense of mystic. Even now that it is retired, the aircraft looks very futuristic.

Sikorsky CH-54


Skeletal, that’s how I see this helicopter. Or one might just call it a prehistoric dragonfly. Whatever one calls it; this chopper remains the most exotic in operation. Nevertheless it could lift heavy cargoes despite looking so flimsy. And that’s why it looked that way. It’s just engines and rotor with the excess parts eliminated.

PZL M-15 Belphegor


It’s so strange that it is named after a noisy demon. We knew how biplanes are driven by propellers, but the Soviets upped the ante by producing a jet powered biplane. The M-15 was never meant to fight wars, but when it flew in the Paris Airshow, the unconventional look gave it a demonic name.

But one might wonder if the jet biplane is any better.

Biplanes are better off with propellers. Only 175 were built as the aircraft is not economical.

MXY-7 Ohka


It’s a beautiful piece of engineering, built for the Imperial Japanese Navy in WWII. Being powered by rocket engine, it looks high-tech and futuristic. Yet it is made for a grimmer purpose; this is a flying suicide plane for a Kamikaze pilot. This is a human controlled bomb where the operator will guide the infernal vehicle to its intended target. Suddenly we are thankful for the invention of smart bombs, as we no longer need a waste of life.


Mamerto Adan (author) from Cabuyao on October 23, 2018:

Thanks Larry for stopping by!

Larry Slawson from North Carolina on October 22, 2018:

Fascinating stuff here. There were several planes you mentioned that I have never seen before.

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