Vought V-173: The “Flying Pancake”

There are many interesting and extraordinary designs and concepts of various aircrafts and war planes in history. Although most couldn’t even get the chance to be put into mass production, they still served the aviation world in many other ways than being used as actual air vehicles. Lets look closer to Vought V-173.

Most of the extraordinary designs and concepts for various types of aircrafts were mainly developed between the late 1930’s and the early 1970’s. Thousands of concepts and designs were developed during this era, with very few of them being able to be actually manufactured. During this era, there were very unusual and somewhat genius approaches to the traditional aircraft designs. Some were even in the thought that these traditional designs were highly faulty and inefficient. And one of them was Charles H. Zimmerman.

Vought V-173
Charles H. Zimmerman
Source: Nasa

Who Is Charles H. Zimmerman?

Charles H. Zimmerman was an American aeronautical engineer born in Olathe, Kansas, USA in 1908. He was an experimental aircraft designer working in the aerospace company Vought. He thought that the traditional aircraft designs were highly faulty, consisting of a long and cylinder body and two wings attached to the sides. For him, aircrafts should have been in the form of “pancakes”, or “flying wings” in other words. He thought that it was possible to improve the aerodynamic structure of these traditional aircrafts by introducing a new standard for their shapes.

For Zimmerman, the “flying pancake” concept would improve aerodynamics, speed, and maneuverability when compared to a traditional aircraft. He saw the future in flying pancakes, and deeply believed in them while developing designs on this concept. And the most popular and successful one among these designs was the Vought V-173 “Flying Pancake”.

Vought V-173: The “Flying Pancake”
source: fiddlersgreen.net

How Was Vought V-173 Born?

During the early and mid-30’s, Zimmerman was working on his “flying disc/flying wing” concept as an independent aeronautics engineer. He came up with a very extraordinary design, which was basically a plane completely made of a wing. It didn’t have a body like traditional aircrafts, rather, its cockpit was located in the front of the wing itself.

Zimmerman decided to patent this design of his, and submit it to the NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics). His design was found very interesting, and he was able to join Vought aircraft company. He continued to develop his design in Vought, and planned many prototypes for his novel design. In 1939, Zimmerman under the management of Vought had already collected enough results from his aerodynamics and engineering studies. Vought submitted a proposal to the U.S. Navy, concerning the use of Vought V-173 in the Navy as a fighter plane to be used in aircraft carriers. The U.S. Navy signed a contract with Vought, concerning the continuity of the development of V-173.

During the early 40s, the aircraft was still being developed, and a human-controlled prototype (after a unmanned full-scale prototype) was manufactured for field and flight tests. And on 23 November 1942, Vought V-173 completed its first flight with great success.

image source: aviationmegastore

What Went Wrong?

After its first successful flight, the project gained a higher acceleration, but as it did, problems also started to emerge. There were many problems caused by the shape of the plane. Since it was designed as a flying wing, it lacked the aerodynamic capability of taking off horizontally. The cockpit of the aircraft needed to have an uplift of about 15 degrees to be able to take off horizontally in the most efficient way. Additionally, the propellers of the rotors also needed to be larger to be able to carry enough weight in efficient speeds, which required the nose of the plane to be uplifted even higher.

But these requirements caused more problems, especially with the tire placement for the landing gear, and the insufficient field of view of the pilot in this angle. Because of the limited field of view of the pilot in addition to the large propellers limiting the sight even more, taking off and flying with this aircraft had become highly inefficient and dangerous.

For these reasons, two years after the first flight of the aircraft, in 1944, the contract was canceled, and the development of the aircraft with the funds of the U.S. Navy was stopped. Later, although Zimmerman tried to keep the project alive by developing it with his own budget, the failure became inevitable, and one of the most interesting concepts in aviation history, the Vought V-173 “Flying Pancake” became not more than a part of the past.