Turnabout is fair play

OK, so I've poked a bit of fun at French aircraft design here from time to time, with a post on the fugliest aircraft of the Third Republic and another recoiling in horror at the aeroplane which should not be. But turnabout is fair play, and the British aviation industry has had plenty of shockers to its discredit.

Here's my pick: the Westland Lysander P.12. It's like the front half of an ordinary Lysander army co-operation aircraft stuck onto the tail-end of a heavy bomber (maybe a Whitley), with a four-gun power turret at the back. It first flew in 1941, but was never put into production; as far as I can tell, the intended purpose was to fly over beaches filled with German invaders and strafe them with the rear machine guns. It's one freaky flying machine! (Image source.)

Westland Lysander P.12

So what do you consider to the weirdest or ugliest British aircraft design of the last century?

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19 thoughts on “Turnabout is fair play

  1. Ian Evans

    Unbeatably ugly with knobs on - Blackburn Blackburd. (Spelling of name as well).

    I wouldn't really class the Westland Delanne as ugly - unusual, yes; but the two are not necessarily synonymous.

  2. If it weren't for the stabilizers on the tail fins (and, yes, the turret bump), it would almost be elegant, kind of like a butterfly flying sideways. On second thought, who wants to fly in a sideways butterfly?

  3. Jakob

    The Blackburn Roc was fairly unprepossessing; indeed Blackburn seem to have produced some memorably ugly craft - The Blackburn R.1 Blackburn was also fairly homely-looking.

    IMHO, the Westland Wyvern is baroque enough to miss being hideous - does the Shorts Seamew count?

  4. Christine Keeler


    I disagree with you. That Miles Libellula (including the name) is complete aircraft porn.

    You know, the type a teenage aero-engineer should keep safely hidden under his bed.

    And slightly OT, can anybody tell me what was going on with the fetish for twin-boom tails in the 40s? Was there actually a good aerodynamic/engineering reason for this?

  5. Ian Evans

    Surely this thread needs livening up a bit - there's poor Brett slaving away over a hot PC; he must need some non-contributary entertainment.
    So - cry havoc! and let loose the dogs of clashing aesthetic sensibilities.
    How can the Wyvern possibly be described as baroque? Where are the domes and cupolas? Now if you'd said Sea Hornet NF 21... Seriously, seeing how beautiful the starting point was, the NF 21 should get an uglification bonus.
    Back to the Wyvern - certainly not ugly, and except for the finlets, handsome, striking, even. Now if you want ugly Westlands, try the Dreadnought/Woyedwodsky or the Walrus (no. it didn't have a pusher engine).
    Short Seamew? Well it did look a bit gormless, especially when they hung that radome under the nose, but the Sturgeon looked worse, and the SB3 was really ugly.

    Twin booms in the 40's (and 30's and 50's)? Reasons varied - Vampire/Venom, to keep jet pipes short and minimise thrust losses (and the 110 was an extension of the theme. P-38 - if you have a tricycle undercarriage the main wheel legs need to be fairly well aft and if you put the turbocharger behind that and then add in the associated ducting, the nacelle gets pretty beefy. If you then choose twin fins for improved engine-out controllability there is quite a good case for chopping the fuselage short and extending the nacellesall the way back to the tailplane. C-82/C-119/Noratlas/Argosy - ease of loading and almost certainly lighter than the pod and boom equivalent.

    M35 Libellula - bitsa. Now the M39B, that was stimulating (Sgd, former teenage aero-engineer (rtd))

  6. Chris Williams

    Fairey Gannett - some law of Conservation of Ugly meant that they had to design an anti-FD2.
    Avro Bison
    Tarrant Tabor
    Nulli Secondus
    Meteor night-fighters

  7. Erik Lund

    The twin booms, of the late 30s, anyway, were because of controllability issues. There just wasn't the equipment to move the tailplane without lag. Not only do we see dual tailplanes all over the place, triple planes show up in 1939 (for example, the Boeing Atlantic Clipper.) The turn towards single tailplanes later in the 40s is one of those unheralded wartime technical developments.
    I'm pretty sure that there's a story behind that Westland weirdness, even if I cannot remember what it is.
    And my vote for ugliest British service aeroplane of the interwar goes, like everyone else's, to the Blackburd.
    But for sheer eye-numbing stupid, I vote for our old buddy Pemberton Billing's P.B. 29, a design concept he was still flogging in 1940.

  8. I've always been a fan of the Brewster Buffalo. It's not the fugliest machine in the world, but I love its squat, overfed proportions.

    Ooh--how about the guppies? They're postwar, but they're frightful.

  9. Christine Keeler

    Thanks for that Erik. That would also explain the triple plane on the Constellation, which as I understand was designed late '30s early 40s.

    God, what a bunch of nerds.

  10. The Boeing Clipper started with just one fin but lateral control needs increased it to two and the three. And don't forget the most beautiful airliner ever, the Connie. I have read about it being for entering the hangars at the time (so you could keep it low) but I've also read someone saying "Bah, schmakus" about that explanation. Anyone with more info on it?

  11. Post author

    Some really good (as in bad) suggestions here! I'm particularly struck by the Seamews, the Gannet, and the Blackburd (it's like the designer drew a box for the fuselage and forgot to smooth around the edges) but the one which I found the most offensive was the SB.3: http://www.fortunecity.com/tattooine/farmer/120/sb3.html That's just wrong.

    I'm surprised there's no unlove for the Vickers Wellesley, though!


    Was P-B really still going on about that in 1940? (Agreed, it's a monstrosity.) I thought he was into slip-wings by then ...

  12. Nik

    IIRC, the DeLanne Configuration had a critical gap between airfoils which gave remarkable lift at low speed and/or low power, was verrrry reluctant to stall, with an extraordinary insensitivity to c/g. Germans were so impressed with DeLanne's designs that they forced him to continue work on his French prototypes. After he managed to wreck them during air-raid, he barely survived prison...

    That modified Lysander was probably the only aircraft of its size that could carry such a turret without the crippling performance issues of eg Defiant and Roc. Um, a Lysander was nimble enough: Trying to nail one equipped with DeLanne wings and that monster tail-turret while it danced 'on the deck' would have driven Luftwaffe pilots to drink...

    One of the great aeronautical 'WhatIfs' must be the wondrous French designs that came just too late: Payen's nimble, dart-like fighters protecting robust ground-attack DeLannes could, perhaps, have turned the Blitzkrieg's armoured thrusts into smoking ruin...

    FWIW, the original Connie had a single tail, had dire handling due to (IIRC) masking by fuselage during turns. The inspired re-design made it a Classic.

    And, um, few aircraft use DeLanne system because the spacing is very tricky to get right, modern wing designs are better and commercial aircraft can unfold all those slots, flaps etc, which have a similar effect...

  13. Post author

    Thanks for that, Nik. The flight tests of the P.12 showed that it was indeed very nimble, though I doubt the turret gunner's aim would have been improved by all the ducking and weaving! And if it was going to be used for low-level strafing you'd probably want a bit of armour too ...

  14. Erik Lund

    P.B.'s letter raising the PB29 concept is somewhere in the 1939/40 run of Flight. I think.
    It's those kinds of moments that allow him to take the Dumbest Aviation Enthusiast Ever away from A. V. Roe.
    And the Wellesley wasn't ugly. It just had tumours, and not nearly as bad as the Fairey Barracuda, either.

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