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The Flare Path: Forgotten Flying Machines

Winged wallflowers

When it comes to flight sim flyables I'm not used to going without. When I stumble on an interesting aerodyne in a book, magazine, documentary, or museum, I know there's a good chance that someone, somewhere, somewhen will have crafted a version of that aircraft for either Microsoft Flight Simulator, X-Plane or IL-2. The vast majority of my aviation cravings can be satisfied in a matter of minutes thanks to sites like,, and It's very rare I encounter totally unsimmed sky steeds such as the unfortunate outcasts highlighted below.

Blohm & Voss BV 40

The Focke-Wulf 190's big radial engine meant it was far from ideal as a day bomber destroyer. B-17 gunners could see it coming from miles off and had a fair chance of damaging something vital with their .50 calibre greetings. To tackle the Flying Fortress menace what was needed was something slim, swift, strong and heavily armed. Something like Dr. Richard Vogt's imaginative 'glide-fighter'.

Frontal armour accounted for more than a quarter of this small engineless aircraft's total weight, a pair of 30mm cannons and a prone pilot, a significant portion of the remainder. Towed into position above attacking bomber formations by a Bf 109, the idea was that the wooden-winged and fuselaged BV 40 would dive on its lumbering prey and rely on its high speed (550 mph), tough armour, and tiny frontal area, to escape unscathed. Two hundred were on order when the programme was prematurely halted late in 1944.

In a perfect world this Luftwaffe oddity would be present in IL-2: 1946, B -17: The Mighty Eighth, and the WW2 Condor spin-off I occasionally pipe-dream.


Vickers Vulcan

While tin triangles are two-a-penny in Simulatia, you'll be lucky to find a facsimile of the first bearer of the Vulcan name. One of the earliest purpose-built airliners, the bloated Vickers Vulcan was capable (just) of carrying eight passengers 360 miles at speeds of up to 105mph. (Under)powered by a single Rolls-Royce Eagle VIII - a relatively cheap and plentiful engine in post-war Britain thanks to the large number of surplus bombers around – the 'flying pigs' dawdled back and forth between SE England and Belgium for a few years, but, when shipped to Australia for trials, proved spectacularly unsuited to the heat of mid-summer Queensland.

In 1928 the Vulcan story ended tragically when an Imperial Airways machine with five unauthorised passengers on board crashed near Purley, Surrey during an engine test.

Even the encyclopaedic MSFS is short of first-generation airliners like the Vulcan. Until some brave, interbellum-infatuated dev realises that a business-spiced flight sim set during the pioneering years of commercial aviation might be worth blood, sweat and tears, I fear the great-great-great-great grandfathers of today's Airbuses and 777s are likely to remain tragically undersimmed.


Blériot-Zappata 110

One-off record-breaking aircraft are another neglected sub-species. Fourteen years after John Alcock & Arthur Brown Vimy-ed from Newfoundland to Ireland, Paul Codos and Maurice Rossi were crossing the Atlantic and flying the length of Europe in the same non-stop trip. In 1933 in their handsome high-wing cantilever monoplane 'Joseph le Brix', the intrepid pair flew from New York to Rayak, Syria, a distance of 5658 miles.

The triumph was covered in typically partisan fashion by UK-based magazine Flight. Yes, the specially built Blériot-Zappata machine was designed by an Italian, piloted by Frenchmen, and powered by a French aero engine, but in a sense the flight was still A British Achievement:

“It is interesting to note that Britain can claim a share in the record by reason of the fact that a British firm's oil, Castrol to wit, was used. Also, those who are fond of arithmetic may care to work out how many sparks the 24 K.L.G. plugs made during the flight. Whatever the number was, in spite of the bad weather, the British plugs kept " plugging away, " “

Pathé News was more magnanimous.

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Filippo Zappata had a knack for combining superlative performance and striking beauty in his designs. Happily, simulations of both his nicely proportioned Alcione bomber and easy-on-the-eye BZ.308 airliner can be flown in FS.


Convair NB-36H Crusader

I'm not all that interested in piloting this ten-engined (4 x turbojet, 6 x radial) experimental leviathan as I already possess a recreation of its doppelgänger the B-36, but ever since reading about the forty-seven test flights it conducted between September 1955 and March 1957 I've imagined a game that begins with the player leaping out of one the paratrooper-crammed support planes that shadowed it where ever it went.

The first step down the road to a nuclear-powered bomber, the NB-36H was basically a B-36 Peacemaker adapted to carry and monitor a small, generously shielded nuclear reactor. The reactor didn't do anything except transfix engineers, and worry aircrew and USAF top brass (propulsion experiments would have occurred at a later stage had the project gone the distance), but its presence in the aft bomb bay led to some seriously unusual safety precautions.

In the event of a crash the unfortunate Marines in the chase plane were expected to parachute down to the wreck and 'secure the area'*

*Sustain ghastly radiation burns. Fire wildly at aggressive atomic slime. Battle giant mutated ants, scorpions etc.

Antonov A-40 Flying Tank

Strictly speaking the Krylya Tanka, a concept scuppered by a lack of sufficiently mad pilots powerful tow planes, hasn't been totally forgotten by sim augmenters. You can find a crude flyable version in some X-Plane mod repositories. I'm including it in this list because in thirty-odd years of PC gaming, no-one has ever let me operate one as Oleg Antonov intended.

I'm waiting for a game that links flight controls to turret position (The ingenious plan was for the airborne T-60 commander to control ailerons and rudders through gun and turret movement). I'm waiting for the sim that allows me to ditch the wings and twin-boomed tail on landing, and drive straight into battle. I reckon Graviteam, the Ukrainian fabricators of both fine armour sims and lovely aircraft-sprinkled wargames, would be the ideal outfit to turn my half-baked imaginings into mesmerising code.


Zeppelin Sub-Cloud

Dangled through clouds by shy high-flying airships, these bizarre human periscopes are definitely going to feature in my Crimson Skies sequel if it ever gets made. I'm not sure what will be more memorable, the guilty thrill of separating one from its mother ship with a well-aimed MG burst or deftly aligned wing edge, or the blind terror of being 'wound in' as the interceptors close.

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There's no record of a 'Spähgondel' ever being attacked during WWI, but bomb aiming from the end of a half-mile long cable must have required nerves of steel all the same. Just about the only good thing about the loneliest aeronautical assignment imaginable was the opportunity it provided to indulge in an activity strictly forbidden on Zeppelins - whistling smoking.

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