Historically, there have been some beautiful aircraft. Not only have these sophisticated marvels of technology dominated the skies, they’ve looked very elegant doing so. Some aircraft, however, weren’t so lucky. We’re talking about planes that fell off the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.
And before you call us shallow, we’re not just talking about looks — ugliness is more than skin-deep. Whether it’s a horrendous aesthetic, poor combat performance, or vastly unmet potential, these six fugly birds never had a chance at beauty.
To be brutally honest, if these planes were people, they’d likely end up being incels for one reason or another. So, let’s get to making some of the ugliest planes to take to the skies since World War II feel very, very bad about themselves.
Look at that big radar under the Avro Shackleton. Did the designers draw inspiration from a bullfrog?
(USAF photo by SSgt. Jose Lopez)
Avro Shackleton AEW.2
This was an airborne radar plane — but it doesn’t have the elegance of the E-3 Sentry. No, this is a slow, lumbering plane with a big bubble under its nose that makes it look like a bullfrog. It was supposed to be replaced by a version of the Nimrod maritime patrol plane, but that didn’t work out. Eventually, the Brits dumped this hideous plane in favor of E-3s.
The plane designer who came up with this one certainly had a major mental malfunction.
De Haviland Vampire
This early British fighter should be a lesson to designers: What once worked with props, aesthetically, may not work with jets. The twin-boom arrangement that worked for the two Allison propeller-driven engines just doesn’t make sense for a single jet engine. This Vampire probably should have lived up to its name and stayed out of the light of day.
This English Electric Lightning is being hauled away by a Sikorsky HH-53C. When it was flyable, it wasn’t much prettier.
(USAF photo by MSgt. Samual A. Hotton)
English Electric Lightning
First off, the designers at English Electric got the engine arrangement sideways. They put one on top of the other. This beast first flew in 1954 and the RAF kept it around until 1988, but this plane only saw action with the Royal Saudi Air Force in 1970 during a border war with South Yemen. The only thing this plane had going for it was speed.
The prettiest thing about the F-4 Phantom is its combat record. On the looks front, it looks like a flying brick — a brick that needs two engines to get airborne.
McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom
When it comes to performance, this classic plane is hard to beat, but in terms of looks, the nickname “Double Ugly” is very apt. The folks who probably found the Phantom the ugliest were those who had to face it in combat. Many MiGs met their end at the hands of this plane.
But let’s be honest, while this plane’s combat record is a thing of beauty, from the outside, it was an eyesore.
This plane couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a prop plane or a jet plane. It first flew in 1943 and its career ended in 1954. The plane served with Sweden, but never really took off in the export market. If you can’t even decide on the propulsion system, what chance do you have of making the plane look remotely presentable?
What really sucks about this plane is that it had potential — which was wasted completely.
One of the low-lights of the F7U Cutlass’s career: This ramp strike didn’t just kill the pilot, it killed three other sailors.
Vought F7U Cutlass
This plane didn’t look very good. The thing is, its looks were the least of its problems. It was very hard to fly — over a quarter of them were lost to accidents. It didn’t even make it eight years from first flight to retirement.
Here’s the ugliest part: 25 pilots died during this flying abomination’s far-too-long career.