Ridiculous Cold War combat vehicles
The Cold War has been over for nearly 30 years, and now the United States and Russia are shedding light on some of their most outrageous military projects. With unlimited budgets, a thirst for besting the enemy, and a range of military needs engineers came up with some of the most ridiculous vehicles and technologies ever devised. Each one is crazier than the next and while laughing we know you’ll be asking, “What on earth were they thinking?!”
1. Lackner HZ-1 Aerocycle
As if battle isn’t dangerous enough, the US Army thought it would be a good idea for soldiers to enter combat with a meat grinder underneath them. Originally built in 1954, the Aerocycle was the Army’s answer to bringing cavalry troops into the 20th century. And believe it or not, the first prototype did so well the Army ordered a dozen more of them.
Pilots actually did well with the Aerocycle, flying it up to 5,000 feet and reaching speeds of 75 mph. The only problem was the Aerocycle wasn’t designed for pilots, and regular soldiers were only given 20 minutes of instruction prior to driving. Two of the dozen crashed, and even though somehow the soldiers lived, the project was scrapped in 1955.
2. Lun (Ekranoplan) “The Caspian Sea Monster”
If only the Soviets had their own version of Howard Hughes, they would’ve known that a plane of this size will have trouble taking off from the water’s surface. Thus the combat version of the “Spruce Goose” was a failed venture that resulted in the building of exactly one “Caspian Sea Monster.”
The Ekranoplan did manage to take off, but like the Spruce Goose, it only achieved low-level flight. It’s max speed was 340 mph at an altitude of 10–15 feet. It remained in service for at least three years in the Black Sea even though a bigger version crashed during testing.
3. Yakovlev Yak-28
Those aren’t two giant cannons underneath both wings, but the Soviet Union did a throwback to the Jet Age by putting the engines for this fighter/bomber underneath those wings. The first jet to ever enter combat was the German Me-262, and like the Yak-28, had engines under the wings, which was a design that was all but scrapped as the Jet Age progressed.
While those engines were no doubt powerful, putting them on the exterior of the air frame produced a considerable amount of drag. Nonetheless, the Soviets manufactured nearly 1,200 of these fighters. The Soviets liked the design, but it didn’t do much for them in the end.
4. US Air Force project 1794 VZ-9
Since this flying machine was developed by the US Air Force, it’s decidedly not a UFO. But, my friends, that is absolutely a flying saucer. The photo below actually shows the VZ-9 near its max altitude: 3 feet. It was also supposed to be high performing and fast, though the fastest it ever flew was 35 mph.
Pilots hated flying the VZ-9, and likened it to “balancing on a beach ball.” The way it maneuvered was very complex, in that a turbofan at the saucer’s center pumped warm air through different openings throughout the aircraft to make it move. It had trouble maneuvering, was slow, and dangerous to fly, so the project was scrapped in 1961.
5. The Curtiss-Wright VZ-8
This vehicle that kind of resembles a helicopter was actually classified as a flying car. Does that pilot look a little exposed to you? He should. But believe it or not, this is exactly what the US Army had in mind. Just like the VZ-7 and VZ-9, the VZ-8 was the Army’s attempt to create a flying Jeep.
The craft resembles civilian drones that we see these days, with four propellers that angle in order to move the aircraft. Two prototypes made it to the Army in 1958, and after finding out it didn’t meet altitude nor speed specifications, it was returned to sender.
6. Regulus missile
The Regulus missile was an example of when technology hasn’t actually caught up to the idea. So engineers shouldn’t get scolded for this submarine-launched nuclear cruise missile, but they way they went about it completely defeated the purpose of having a submarine launch it.
Of course, a submarine is designed to approach with stealth, deliver its payload, and get the heck out of there. The Regulus not only required the submarine to surface to launch it, but also required it to be assembled prior to launch, and then needed the submarine to stay afloat to guide it. Somehow this missile stayed in service from 1955-1964, when engineers figured out how to launch missiles from underwater.
7. Lockheed XFV-1 “Pogo”
This design is another that certainly seems ridiculous, but in this case, it really did have a practical military function that made some sense. The only problem was that it was a terrible weapon system, and landing it was extraordinarily difficult (like vertical parallel parking, except way harder).
The design of the “tail sitter” was born out of the fear that airstrips would come under attack by Soviet bombers, thus leaving American countermeasures unable to take off. The “Pogo” solved that problem, but was slow, carried little armament, and couldn’t maneuver very well, leaving us thinking “nice idea… but what’s the point?”
8. X-13 Vertijet
The X-13 is a similar concept to the “Pogo,” except that it’s faster, even though it’s not a true tail-sitter. In the photograph below, it’s actually ready to launch, as a special platform not only provided a launching platform, but was also responsible for the plane landing. That’s probably a good thing, because if you look closer, you’ll see it doesn’t even have landing gear!
Instead of landing, the X-13 caught a horizontal cable protruding from the platform as it came in on approach. You have to hand it to the pilots of the X-13, because surprisingly, this technology worked extremely well. But the technology was of little use, and the Air Force scrapped the project.
9. SNECMA Coléoptère
Now we’re just getting ridiculous with these vertical take-off platforms, and the SNECMA Coléoptère takes the cake in poor aircraft designs. The problem with the previous two were speed and maneuverability, so what sense does it make to nearly eliminate the wings entirely?
When in flight, the this plane had the tendency to role uncontrollably, and according to reports, it only achieved level, horizontal flight exactly one time. The same report also says that was accidental, and the pilot ejected shortly thereafter. Pilots did manage to land the thing multiple times, but can someone please point to the spot where the missiles go?
10. 1K17 Szhatie
That’s right, you science fiction enthusiasts…there’s a laser tank in that photograph below, and you can thank the Soviet Union for building it. But before you get too excited, you must know that those lasers are not meant to destroy enemy vehicles, but to disrupt their ability to function.
To do that, the laser beams projected by the 1K17 Szhatie were capable of blinding pilots, causing weapons systems to malfunction, and it supposedly worked in all types of weather. The design was accepted by military planners, but the ending of the Cold War prevented it from being mass produced. Shucks!
11. Russian Object 279
Why call a vehicle “Object” then follow it by a number? To keep Americans guessing as to just what on earth it is, of course. This Soviet heavy tank was introduced in 1959, when the concept of tank battles during World War III were still conceivable.
By using four treads instead of two, the weight of the 60-ton tank was more evenly distributed, thus allowing it to operate easier in harsh terrain. It certainly was an impressive tank, but only one of them were ever built, as Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev scrapped the project in favor of building more nuclear weapons and delivery systems.
12. Leduc 010
Alright, we can finally stop harping on the Soviets and the Americans for their designs during the Cold War, and take shots at another Cold War participant: France! This design was actually one of France’s first attempts at a fighter jet design. They came up with it before the Germans invaded in WWII, and then managed to keep it hidden from them for the duration of the war.
The Leduc 010 used Ramjet technology, which is a primitive jet design. Air goes in, mixes with fuel, and with an igniter, effectively becomes a controlled explosion. It might’ve been a good weapon had it been deployed in WWII, but by the time it was tested, there were way better jets flying at much faster speeds.
13. Swept-wing Leduc 022
The Leduc series saw models all the way from 10-22, and each one looks more ridiculous than the last. However, the Leduc 022 was different than the previous 12, because it could takeoff and land on its own. One limitation of Ramjet technology is that it already has to be moving to work, thus why 10-21 were launched from a larger plane.
So in order to takeoff on its own power, the Leduc 022 had to scrap Ramjet technology in favor of a turbojet. The project was scrapped in favor of the Mirage III in 1957, as Leduc’s 010-022 were incapable of exceeding Mach 1.
14. Meteor fighter
Okay, we’ve hit the Soviets, Americans, and French — so now it’s time to make fun of the British. The photo below depicts the Meteor fighter, and if you’re wondering why the nose of the aircraft looks super janky, it’s because it was designed to have the pilot lay prone when flying.
The Meteor flew well enough, despite looking like it had a nose job using scotch tape. But the real problems lay (wink) with the pilot not being able to see behind him, which is incredibly important in a dog fight. There’s also no possibility for an ejection seat, but at least the pilot will be comfortable if the plane goes down.
15. Piasecki VZ-8 Airgeep
The army just absolutely loved the idea of an air Jeep during the 1950s, so they came up with several ridiculous designs to fill the gap. But unlike the VZ-7 and VZ-9 that we saw earlier, the VZ-8 was the most successful prototype created.
It was still extremely difficult to operate, but the fans on both the front and back of the vehicle enable it to fly to altitudes of 3,000 feet, and it achieved speeds of 75 mph. But by the time the army arrived on its design of choice, the UH-1 Huey helicopter was on the scene, and it’s capabilities enabled it to vastly outperform all version of the Airgeep.
16. Nuclear Landmines Kept Warm by Chickens
Don’t laugh for this one… okay, go ahead and laugh because this idea is real, and if you think about it too much, you might cry! Nuclear everything was the cry for defense planners across the globe, and perhaps nuclear landmines kept warm by chickens takes the cake.
Project Blue Peacock was devised to keep the Soviets from invading Germany in the aftermath of WWII, and that involved placing nuclear landmines. The only problem is the cold from the German winter might inadvertently set one of the land mines off. So the British answer to the problem: Have chickens keep them warm! We hope that engineer was fired after that, and luckily the idea was never implemented.
17. Davy Crockett Jeep mounted gun
Nuclear everything extended to some of the smaller weapons out there, and in this case, its a gun mounted on a Jeep… carrying a nuclear warhead. The bomb may have been low yield, but since its maximum range was less than two miles, the crew would’ve had to work very hard to escape the massive radioactive cloud it produced.
The Davy Crockett was designed to be a last ditch weapon, only used in case units were being overrun. But the gun is more reminiscent of a WWII bazooka than a high-powered cannon, and God save us all if the warhead doesn’t launch correctly.
18. The M65 Atomic Cannon or “Atomic Annie”
Sticking with the theme of nuclear everything, we move onto “Atomic Annie,” which produced the iconic Cold War image depicted in the photograph below. One of the reasons a weapon system like Davy Crockett might be advantageous over firing a projectile out of a giant gun is that the force of firing the shell might be enough to set the bomb off.
Evidently, engineers figured that one out because “Atomic Annie” could fire a 15-kiloton nuclear projectile 20 miles, which is about as far as the blast radius extends. Also consider that that projectile is as powerful as the one used over Nagasaki in 1945. Annie get your gun — good grief!
19. Green Run
The Hanford nuclear power plant in Washington State has decidedly storied past. Plutonium from its reactor was used to produce the world’s first atomic bombs during the Manhattan Project. After that, it remained operational and served a sinister national security purpose.
In 1949 a well documented experiment called Green Run released a cloud of toxic gas into the atmosphere, thereby threatening exposure to people in the town of Hanford and beyond. The military justified it by seeing if they could track such a cloud, but they weren’t exactly certain how the cloud would behave. Tsk, Tsk, scientists — this time we’re flunking you!
20. P6M SeaMaster
The design of this Navy bomber is actually really impressive, and the P6M SeaMaster performed very well in early trials. Because everyone needed some skin in the nuclear game, the US Navy was intent on not missing out on the fun.
Jets from aircraft carriers were generally small, so it wasn’t feasible to have carrier planes equipped with nuclear weapons. So engineers came up with creating a fleet of bigger planes that didn’t need an aircraft carrier at all. Budget cuts saw the P6M project scrapped, as the Navy breathed a sigh of relief when they implemented submarine-launched nuclear missiles.
21. Bartini Beriev VVA-14
This Soviet design was actually a pretty good one also, and was certainly more feasible than “The Caspian Sea Monster.” It’s mission was to hunt US nuclear submarines, and it actually did manage to fly above the water’s surface, though only a few feet. The nose kind of looks like a tie fighter from “Star Wars,” and is the result of an Italian design.
The purpose of having it “hover” over the water as it moved was to escape any possible torpedo attack from the submarines it was hunting. The first prototype of the plane was delivered in 1972, but the project was scrapped shortly thereafter, and only two of the VVA-14’s were ever built.
22. McDonnell XF-85 Goblin
This little guy was an early Cold War project, and its mission would’ve been more at home in a WWII air battlefield. The reason is the Goblin was designed to be a “parasite fighter” dropped from a bomber and mixing it up with Russian fighters.
We can see it being used in WWII with those large bomber formations, but during the Cold War, the Goblin would’ve been as useless as garlic gum to freshen your breathe. The project was scrapped in 1949 and the “parasite fighter” idea never really took off. We still like the name though, and wish engineers had painted it green.
23. Star Wars
Movies have a special place in our hearts, but when it comes to a countries national defense, perhaps they should stay out of it. But the Strategic Defense Initiative (STI) was sold to the American public as the “Star Wars” program, and it’s no accident that it was rolled out the same year The Return of the Jedi premiered.
STI was designed to be a series of laser-toting satellites aimed at shooting down Russian Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). Far more science fiction than reality, it was such a bad idea that not only were no satellites built, but the 10-year project was deemed impossible. Lasers! Star Wars! At least they didn’t try to call it Death Star.
24. Soviet Star Wars
In the Cold War, one bad idea begets another, and in this case, the Soviets deserve heightened scorn because they took a bad idea and made it worse. Particle beams and lasers made it into serious discussions about the defense of Moscow, and just like the American version, it was far more science fiction than reality.
The Soviets had designs on ground based lasers, as well as Earth orbiting satellites that were called “hunter killers,” because they were meant to take out American satellites using an array of weapons including lasers, particle beams, and kinetic cannons. None of which worked…ever.