French "Beetle" experimental aircraft of the 1950s

 Images Beetle-C450-Flash

Introduced in the mid-1950s, the Coléoptère (French for "beetle") was one of many experimental aircrafts in history designed to take off and land vertically. According to Smithsonian Air & Space, the Coléoptère designer Helmut von Zborowski's idea was for "an annular, or doughnut-shaped, wing surrounding a fuselage and serving 'as power plant, airframe of a flying wing aircraft and drag-reducing housing. By injecting fuel into the gap between wing and fuselage, Zborowski theorized, he could turn his wing into a ramjet engine, and his aircraft into a supersonic interceptor." Apparently, it managed to take off and hover for a bit but horizontal flight proved to be quite a challenge. Still, it was quite an attention-grabber, even making it into Tintin magazine.

 Images Beetle-C450-Cradle-2 With a full annular wing, an enclosed cockpit, and a seat that tilted forward to allow the pilot a nearly upright position during hover, the Coléoptère soon attained celebrity status. Catherinettes—French bachelorettes who annually advertised their single status by wearing eccentric hats—donned papier-mâché Coléoptères…

The Coléoptère briefly and unexpectedly achieved horizontal flight only on its ninth and last foray, when the aircraft yawed during a powered descent that degenerated into wild oscillations—including a brief horizontal acceleration– preventing (test pilot Auguste) Morel’s ejection until just 160 feet above the ground. The aircraft burned, and Morel was badly injured.

"Cancelled: Vertical Flyer"


    1. I am sure he did. Isn’t that the idea for this aircraft? The ducted fan pushes it to altitude and the ramjet ignites, probably in a dive. I have seen pictures of a similar US navy aircraft. This one had counter rotating puller props. It landed on its tail and it worked.

  1. This French guy’s motorcycle broke in the desert, so he made this airplane out of it  … 

  2. “Still, it was quite an attention-grabber, even making it into the comic Tintin.”

    Not the comic Tintin, but the magazine.
    Tintin was drawn by Hergè while Tintin Magazine was the result of several authors, including Uderzo, Will Eisner, Edgar Pierre Jacobs or Vandersteen. 

  3. The Coleoptere was only one of many tail-sitter designs… And tail-sitters were only one of many configurations explored in the history of VTOL research. It’s a very interesting history, full of creative designs. For a six-minute overview of the field (a Pecha-Kucha talk), I would recommend

  4. I think it’s beautiful, reminiscent of both Firefly’s “Serenity” and the Dyson bladeless fan. 

    I don’t get why there’s all this French machine hate; for the longest time they were the only folks outside of the US to have a space service capable of boosting objects into orbit, and don’t forget – the Paris Air Show has historically been one of the most prestigious aircraft events.

    1. I think it’s beautiful, reminiscent of both Firefly’s “Serenity” and the Dyson bladeless fan.

      Or perhaps a hair dryer.

      1. Vacuum-cleaners originally were dual purpose – when the current was reversed they were used as blow dryers – blowing the hair dry without heat.

        Much like the  brute-force blow dryers that use no heat, only hurricane-speed winds – used at many self-serve dog grooming joints.

        The French plane covered in this posting would make an excellent blow dryer for a Clifford type dog or perhaps Babar’s woolly throw-back cousins.

        1. “In 1965 Frigidaire introduced the “ride-aire” refrigerator that you hooked up to the blower port on your vacuum cleaner to make it easier to move.”

    2. I don’t get why there’s all this French machine hate

      Even French engineers do it. One such engineer introduced a bunch of us to their new application and said here is our new app, and because we are French, it is very complicated.

    1.  Apparently not just in the insect world.  “Briefly and unexpectedly” are not typically good things where high-performance aircraft are concerned.  But it was actually canceled because they knew all the other aviators would laugh at them.

  5. Another bizarre aircraft of note was the Blohm & Voss BV 141.  Built for reconnaissance, its asymmetrical design was intended to give pilots a nearly panoramic view.  Apparently it performed quite well, but was shitcanned by the Luftwaffe for aesthetic reasons.

    1.  Very cool. I seem to recall an american plane from that era that had 2 cockpits set up in a similar arrangement to that plane, with side by side cockpits in seperate nacelles….. Any idea what that was?

  6. The huge problem with tailsitters is landing: the pilot has to transition from horizontal flight to vertical hovering, then, while facing up and on his back, look over his shoulder as he decreases power to land. That’s the sort of thing that makes even top test pilots sweat.

  7. I really like how it gained public notoriety and captured the imaginations of so many while essentially being a non-starter. Form over function!

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