June 2, 1954: Airplane Takes Off, Lands Vertically

Illustration for article titled June 2, 1954: Airplane Takes Off, Lands Vertically

1954: A Convair XFY-1 Pogo aircraft makes a vertical takeoff and landing. It's a milestone in the checkered history of VTOL aircraft.

Using designs captured from the Germans, the Navy and the newly formed Air Force crafted two design studies in 1947 for creating a fixed-wing vertical-takeoff-and-landing, or VTOL, aircraft. The goal of the project was to build a fighter that could protect convoys but not require a large landing area.

Lockheed and Convair both won contracts in May 1951 to build prototypes of the aircraft, which resembled squat fighter planes standing on their tails. That earned the nickname (or epithet?) "Tail Sitter."


The prototype point-defense interceptor didn't need a runway, but that was about the only thing in its favor. It used huge counter-rotating propellors on its nose to lift off like a helicopter - a very heavy helicopter.

After liftoff, it simply turned its nose horizontal and flew like, well a clumsy prop plane with big propellers. Landing was a matter of reversing the process and shizzing back into its helicopter mode to set down on its ample tail assembly.

The Navy gave Convair the only engine rated for vertical takeoffs and landings, allowing its aircraft - the XFY-1 Pogo - to actually make several vertical ascents and multiple transitions to horizontal flight. Did we say clumsy? This bird was a bear to fly.

The Air Force's version, the Lockheed XFV-1, used a less-powerful engine and never made a vertical takeoff. it was eventually fitted with conventional landing gear and made 32 horizontal flights.


Despite a lot of media hoopla, the VTOL had a very short moment in the sun. The Pentagon cast its lot instead with fast horizontal jets and powerful helicopters. Subsequent military experience with tilt-rotor aircraft has been less than happy.

You wanna liftoff? Go to Cape Canaveral.

Illustration for article titled June 2, 1954: Airplane Takes Off, Lands Vertically

Wired.com has been expanding the hive mind with technology, science and geek culture news since 1995.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter


Contrarotating propellers.

Not counterrotating propellers. Counterrotating propellers is when a plane has two separate props that rotate in the opposite directions.

Contrarotating is when two props are driven by a single engine and rotate around the same axis.

The largest was the Kuznetsov NK12 (shown) The props were 6.2 meter in diameter. 4 of these 15.000ehp monsters propelled the worlds fastest propeller plane, the Tu-95 Bear.

Contrarotating propellers can be up to 30dB louder. The Tu-95 was so loud that submarines could hear it diving.