Five Theoretically Awesome Attempts to Fly (That Failed)

  • March 21, 2010
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Fieseler Fi 103R

As World War II entered its closing years German military officials developed the Leonidas Squadron. Though the name would imply a group of well built and inexplicably oily men engaging Allied soldiers on the field of battle the Leonidas Squadron was trained with the intention of every member meeting a horrible demise as part of their mission. Ideally the squadron would prove to be as damaging as the Japanese kamikaze soldiers, though if that were true they probably wouldn't have been included on this list.

To arm the new suicide squadron a special aircraft was developed by converting the V-1 Flying Bomb into a manned craft. Given that, you know, it was a bomb, the conversion process was pretty cheap and left out many of the bells and whistles aviation enthusiasts have come to know and love: a cramped cockpit was added to the craft complete with plywood bucket seat. That's about it. Wings were added but the craft itself didn't fly. Instead it was dropped from ships piloted by more fortunate pilots and glided somewhat, allowing the damned soul inside to control where they'd like to leave their crater. Soldiers were trained with gliders until 1944 when test flights began.

fieseler fi 103r01

Like this, but constantly exploding.

The problem with 103R was obvious: if it was successful, it would explode and kill the pilot. If it somehow failed in carrying out this most basic of functions then it was virtually useless. During test flights the ship's own vibrations caused the wings to fall off, effectively robbing the pilot of what little control they had. Realizing an uncontrollable bomb wasn't quite as effective as they would have hoped, the Leonidas Squadron was disbanded, but not before being deployed at the Battle of Berlin in 1945. According to historians the squadron managed to destroy a single bridge. Success?

fieseler fi 103r02


The Parachute Coat

Franz Reichelt was a man spited by fate: it seemed his life was destined to be that of a tailor but he had a different dream. The new world of the twentieth century had no need for button down shirts and well fitted slacks. Hiding one's naked shame was no longer as exciting as it once was. Humanity was racing to the sky, to fly amongst the birds, burst through the heavens and to kick the very a$# of God. While many inventors trained in the field of science (and many more who weren't) worked around the clock to make aviation more awesome and less likely to kill you in a silo collision, Franz made a keen observation: escaping a doomed airplane just wasn't fashionable. Thus the parachute coat was conceived.

parachute coat


Working under the assumption that everyone wants to look like a gay magician as they plummeted towards the earth, Franz designed what was part over-sized overcoat and part science fair runner-up. He believed that a large enough coat could catch enough air to act as a parachute and gently float the wearer down to the ground. Had he done fifteen minutes of research he would have realized that physics doesn't quite work that way and could have moved onto designing pogo boots instead. Without any sort of practical tests Franz finished the coat and decided it worked, based on absolutely nothing, and that the public must see his brilliance.

The grand unveiling would take place in Paris. Franz spoke to French authorities and somehow convinced them to let him leap from the Eiffel tower, the tallest man-made structure at the time. With a crowd of spectators watching from below Franz jumped from the tower and fell with just as much grace and beauty as a bridge collapse. Fortunately, the news media was at hand to make what would later become the most awesome silent movie ever.

Written by Mark Hill – Copyrighted © Image Sources

Image sources:

  • - The Christmas Bullet :
  • - Goodyear Inflatoplane :
  • - Hiller VZ-1 :
  • - Fieseler Fi 103R :
  • - The Parachute Coat :