Plane of the Week #11: Vought V-173 Flying Pancake

This week’s plane of the week is the Vought V-173 Flying Pancake.

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The V-173 was one of the weirdest planes ever considered by the U.S. Military. It doesn’t even look like it should fly. It does, though, and quite well, I might add.

The first flight of the V-173.
The first flight of the V-173.

The Vought V-173 “Flying Pancake” designed by Charles H. Zimmerman was an American experimental test aircraft built as part of the Vought XF5U “Flying Flapjack” World War II United States Navy fighter aircraft program. Both the V-173 and the XF5U featured an unorthodox “all-wing” design consisting of flat, disk-shaped bodies serving as the wing. Two piston engines hidden in the body drove propellers located on the leading edge at the wingtips. The small wing provided high maneuverability with greater structural strength.

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The first flight of the V-173 was on November 23, 1942 with Vought Chief Test Pilot Boone Guyton at the controls. Flight testing of the V-173 went on through 1942 and 1943 with 190 flights, resulting in reports of UFOs from surprised Connecticut locals. Charles Lindbergh piloted the V-173 during this time and found it surprisingly easy to handle and exhibiting impressive low-speed capabilities. On one occasion, the V-173 was forced to make an emergency landing on a beach. As the pilot made his final approach, he noticed two bathers directly in his path. The pilot locked the aircraft’s brakes on landing, causing the aircraft to flip over onto its back. The plane proved so strong that neither the plane nor the pilot sustained any significant damage, surprisingly.

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Unfortunately, the program was cancelled. The Navy decided it didn’t need any more propeller planes, because they could not compete with the power and speed of jet aircraft. If a jet could be made to take off a carrier, they did not need a new propeller plane. The V-173 was one of the first successful VTOL planes, but it did not matter to the Navy. Ironically, the Navy is now buying the F-35, a plane famous for its VTOL capabilities.

A V-173 undergoing restoration.
A V-173 undergoing restoration.

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Next week: the most famous early airliner.

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Plane of the Week #11: Vought V-173 Flying Pancake

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