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.
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.
David Pescovitz is Boing Boing's co-editor/managing partner. He's also a research director at Institute for the Future. On Instagram, he's @pesco.