7 of The Worst Aircraft Design Flaws of All Time

Flight is one of the safest ways to travel, but there have been some serious aircraft design flaws in the past.
Christopher McFadden
aircraft flaws1, 2

The history of aircraft is filled with some incredible designs that have stood the test of time. But there are many others that proved to be less than perfect.


While flying is still one of the safest ways to travel, when it does go wrong it tends to be fatal.

Here are 7 of the worst aircraft design flaws of all time. This list is far from exhaustive and is in no particular order.

1. The DC-10 was famously poorly designed

aircraft flaws DC-10
Source: Danielkang7744/Wikimedia Commons

The McDonnell Douglas DC-10 was one of the most recognizable jetliners of all time. Its highly distinct design made it a favorite amongst many aircraft fans the world over.

But this belayed a fatal design flaw in early aircraft that led to the plane crashing more than it should. Several high profile crashes occurred throughout its career including a 1973 Turkish Airlines Flight 981 in Picardi, France that killed everyone on board.

The problem was an issue with the cargo bay door design that would open outwards not inwards. The cargo door burst open causing the cabin floor to collapse that eventually brought the aircraft down.

This issue was later rectified, and the aircraft is recognized as one of the most reliable in its day.

2. The ME-163 Komet had promise but was rushed

Towards the end of the Second World War, the National Socialist war machine was throwing everything it had at the advancing allies. One of their more experimental war machines was the ME-163 Komet.

This diminutive rocket-powered fighter could travel over 100 mph (160 km/h) faster than any of the fastest Allied fighters around. But it had some inherent issues.

One of which was its fuel capacity. Once in the air pilots had only three minutes to intercept and attack Allied bombers and fighters.

After which they needed to glide, unpowered, back to base - -leaving them as sitting ducks for Allied fighters.

It also had no landing gear to speak off. Returning pilots and aircraft were regularly lost during a highly precarious landing using its belly skid.

3. The Hindenburg was a tragedy that could have been avoided

One of the most famous aircraft design flaws of all time was the catastrophic Hindenburg disaster. This event single-handedly stalled the promising future of airships as passenger aircraft.

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It famously caught fire and crashed whilst attempting to dock in New Jersey in 1936. Later investigations found that the airship broke up from an electrostatic discharge that ignited the airship's hydrogen gas.

Whilst later airships replaced hydrogen with the more inert Helium gas, the days were numbered for passenger airships.

4. The "Christmas Bullet" was a complete shambles

aircraft flaws bullet
Source: PD-US/Wikimedia Commons

The "Christmas Bullet" was an interesting prototype biplane designed by Dr. William Whitney Christmas in 1918. History would not remember William, or his aircraft, kindly.

He was later described by one aviation historian as "the greatest charlatan to ever see his name associated with an airplane". As for his groundbreaking aircraft, it had no struts supporting the wings.

Instead, they were supposed to flap like a bird's wings. Needless to say, both prototypes crashed during their first flights.

His design was completely incapable of flight and the wings simply twisted off the airframe sending the remaining fuselage careening to the ground.

5. The Britsh BE-9 was an interesting concept

aircraft flaws BE9
Source: Kaboldy/Wikimedia Commons

The early decades of the 20th Century can be seen as something of a "Cambrian Explosion" of aircraft design. Many interesting concepts appeared during this time including early monoplanes and even triplane designs.

But 'the biscuit' might have to go to the Royal Aircraft factory's B.E.9. This aircraft is like nothing you've likely ever seen before.

The plane's designers believed in order to give a gunner an unimpeded field of view. They were to be placed at the front of the aircraft.

Sounds reasonable, but there is one problem. That's where the propeller tends to be.

Their solution? Put the gunner in front of the propeller - what could possibly go wrong?

6. The de Havilland Comet was ahead of its time but had a flawed design

Post WW2 British aircraft design was a 'Golden Age' for the industry. Many incredibly advanced designs appeared in this period.

One of which was the revolutionary de Havilland Comet. This was the world's first jetliner and it first entered service in 1952.

But it had a serious design flaw that would ultimately ground the plane. It's cabin windows were square in design rather than the rounded ones we're are all familiar with today.

This tiny, yet crucial design difference, caused three Comets to break up mid-air soon after entering service.

Lessons were quickly learned but it was too late for the Comet.

7. The Ca 60 Noviplano might be the world's ugliest aircraft of all time

aircraft flaws CA60
Source: Wikimedia Commons

You may, or may not, have heard of the Caproni Ca 60 Noviplano. Designed in the 1920s, this interesting aircraft had no less than nine wings.

It was designed to carry 100 passengers and its three sets of three wings carried a total of eight engines. The plane only had one test flight and reached an incredible altitude of 60 feet (18 meters).

It soon crashed back down to earth into some water. Fortunately, the pilot survived but the prototype was completely destroyed following a fire.

It also happens to be one of the ugliest planes you've ever seen.