The current generation of airliners is the result of decades of optimization. They combine speed, capacity, economy, and safety into the perfect package capable of bringing profit. However, aren’t they a bit too similar, predictable and… boring? Let’s dive into the world of experiments and find the craziest airliners that ever existed!

Of course, the definition of an airliner is a bit vague, so, we will have to delineate what features an aircraft has to have to be considered as one. A capability to carry at least 10 passengers is the first one, as in order for an airline to use it, a similar number is a must. Business jets, utility aircraft and such are counted if they have sufficient capacity and can provide (or could have provided) airliner-worthy level of comfort. 

Also, only aircraft that had operational prototypes built are accepted, whether those prototypes ever carried passengers or not. All the crazy unrealized projects, such as Bel Geddes airliners, are a story for another day. 

The criteria for ranking airliners is simple: the more unconventional, unusual and crazy is the aircraft, the higher it is ranked. 

Bonus round!

Airliners that almost were built:

Dornier Do-231, civilian version of German military VTOL transporter Do-23, that almost went into production.

Boeing 767-611, unusually shaped near-sonic variant of a regular 767.

FMA IA 36 Cóndor, Argentinian mid-range airliner with five engines located in a circle around the fuselage.

Mikoyan-Gurevich Mig-25 business jet: yes, there were plans to turn the world's fastest fighter into an airliner.

And now, for our main course.

 

10. Saunders-Roe SR.45 Princess

Saunders-Roe SR.45 Princess AeroTime News

A majestic take-off (or landing) (Photo: SDASM / Wikipedia)

Imagine Boeing 377, but… a flying boat. The Princess was the largest all-metal flying boat ever constructed, and intended to continue the pre-war tradition of luxurious sea-based airliners. But the jet age was right around the corner and the work never went beyond a prototype, as land-based airliners were much more convenient. Two even larger jet-powered variants – P.131 Duchess and P.192 Queen – were briefly in development too.

 

9. Dassault Falcon 20 with an afterburner

Dassault Falcon 20 afterburner AeroTime News

It was just a test, but what a sight! (photo: Dassault / atf3.org)

Business jets are fast. But one of them was even faster. In the late 80s, experiments were made with ITEC's afterburning TFE1042 fighter engine on one of Dassault's aircraft. Afterburners inject fuel into the engine's combustor, dramatically increasing the thrust. They are usually used by fighter jets and it is doubtful that regular business jet would ever go into production with one, though.

 

8. Yakovlev Yak-40 M-602

Yakovlev Yak-40 M-602 AeroTime News

It was just a test too. (photo: Roman Frignani / planes.cz)

This one gets its position on the looks alone. It is a regular Soviet Yak-40 trijet with an M-602 turboprop mounted in the nose. What else do you need?

 

7. Antonov An-714

Antonov An-714 AeroTime News

Soft landing taken to whole new level (photo: airwar.ru)

Another Soviet experiment, aimed at testing the viability of using hovercraft air-cushions instead of a landing gear. Such a contraption would allow an aircraft to land on rough terrain, bringing air service to the remotest regions of the Soviet Union. Several variants based on the An-14 utility plane were built, with the An-714, sporting three cushions, arguably being the craziest of them.

 

6. Dornier Do X

Dornier Do X

Notice both the puller and pusher propellers. The plane had 12 engines in total. (photo: German federal archives / Wikipedia)

It was a monumental, but ultimately unsuccessful example of the pre-war flying boat glamour that Saunders-Roe Princess was intended to emulate. The largest aircraft of its time, Do X was built in Germany in the late 20s and completed a couple of transatlantic flights, yet plans of mass-production were never accomplished due to the Great depression. Two even larger sister airplanes – X2 and X3 – were built in Italy and had slightly more success.

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