Built to Fail: General Aviation and Cargo Aircraft

A Learjet 85 Featured at the Paris Air Show in 2009 (Photo: Georges Seguin (Okki) - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7098866)

While we all admire the success and fame that has come with aircraft like the Boeing 747 or Airbus A320, not every design is successful. In this multi-part series, we will be looking into some of aviation’s designs that had huge potential and didn’t live up to the hype or could have potentially reshaped the aviation landscape but didn’t. We will not be looking into aircraft that have gained over 100 orders or are still being made in large quantities (i.e. Bombardier CSeries) or branches of successful aircraft (i.e. Boeing 747-8), so from supersonics to cargo aircraft, here are some of the designs that failed to launch. This is the third and final part of this series.

Be sure to check out the first two parts of the series, highlighting both supersonic aircraft and commercial aircraft that didn’t live up to their potential.

Antonov AN-225 Mriya

While the Antonov AN-225 was never expected to reach 100 orders, there was a point in time where the Soviet giant never flew. The AN-225 Mriya was designed by the present day Ukrainian-based Antonov Aircraft Bureau, with the goal of carrying the Soviet Space Shuttle, Buran, and its rocket boosters.

The first Antonov AN-225 rolled out in 1988 and took part in various airshows in its first few years to promote Soviet ingenuity. However, before the remaining orders for the Mryia could be completed, the Soviet Union collapsed. The other orders for the AN-225 were abandoned, and the one active aircraft was grounded as the country didn’t see a need for the plane anymore. With the AN-225 project removed, Antonov prioritized the AN-124 since it was a smaller aircraft with more potential routes and orders.

It would take most of the decade for the Russians to realize the need for a large strategic lift aircraft. The lone AN-225 was overhauled, removing all of its space shuttle carrying aspects and replacing the engines that were removed when the aircraft entered storage. The airplane flew again in the late 1990s, this time under control of Antonov Airlines.

Since the relaunch of the An-225, Antonov have made various attempts to continue work on the second airframe to meet demand. However, the aircraft builder says that the team lacks the financial backing to make the aircraft fly, despite being over 50% done on the second frame. In 2016, the Chinese Aerospace Industry Corporation agreed to help financially back Antonov in their production of the second aircraft, with hopes that it will fly by 2020.

Learjet 85

With the success of previous Learjet models such as the Learjet 35 and Learjet 75, Bombardier Learjet decided to bring forward a new aircraft design: the Learjet 85. Similar in size to the Learjet 75, the Learjet 85 would offer an additional 600 miles of range than that of the Learjet 75. The aircraft was launched at the 2007 National Business Aviation Association show with hopes of attracting some early orders.

The aircraft was a mild success to begin with, as over 60 orders were placed. However, following the early success, no orders came in after the announcement. Full-scale mockups were sent to popular airshows, such as the Paris Air Show, in hopes of winning over some more people, as Bombardier needed to sell more to justify making the aircraft.

Although the orders weren’t coming in, Bombardier started testing of the Learjet 85 in 2013 with the aircraft making its first flight in 2014. But as costs from flight-testing the Learjet 85, Bombardier Global Express and CSeries rose, Bombardier was bleeding cash and needed to remove one aircraft. The aircraft was grounded in Spring 2015 and cancelled later that year, with the remains of the program being quickly removed from the public eye.

Beechcraft 2000 Starship

Although the Learjet 85 was a failure, it wasn’t the first one in the state of Kansas, as crosstown rival Beechcraft has had their own set of woes with the Starship. The success of the King Air in the 1960s and early 1970s led Beechcraft to believe that the world wanted more twin prop business jets. Work began in the late 1970s for a revolutionary design that allowed for more passengers and better mileage than the King Air.

Beech worked well into the 1980s reworking the Starship before its public launch in the mid-1980s. The final design featured a canard configuration with two pusher propellers on the wings along with two vertical stabilizers on the ends of the wings. The body of the aircraft was made of carbon fiber and was the first business class aircraft to use the glass cockpit.

However, the aircraft failed to sell well. The Beech had the same range and price tag as the Cessna Citation, and Learjet 30 was also much slower than the two. With pusher props, the Starship was also as thirsty as the Citation and Learjet.

This led investors to choose the competitors’ models over the Beechcraft, and when orders were placed for Beechcraft aircraft, investors chose the King Air since it was cheaper. In total, only 53 Beechcraft Starships were produced before Beechcraft pulled the design from the market. Since then, the Starship has slowly declined in number active, with only 11 airframes currently holding active registrations.

Final Note

Over the last three parts of this series we have seen some of the aviation world’s most abstract and unfortunate designs. While these designs never went on creating headlines or becoming poster worthy aircraft, we at AirlineGeeks give kudos to those who put heart and soul into making these designs a reality in an attempt to further expand the aviation world.

Ian McMurtry

Ian McMurtry

Ian has been an avgeek since 2004 when he started spotting US Airways Express planes at Johnstown Airport in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. He now lives in Wichita and enjoys spotting planes in Kansas City and Wichita as well as those flying at high altitudes over his home. He is a pilot with more than 40 hours of experience behind a Cessna 172, Diamond DA-20, and Piper PA-28. He flies Southwest Airlines on most of his domestic flights and Icelandair when flying to Europe. Ian’s route map spans from Iceland and Alaska in the north to St. Maarten in the south. He is a student at Wichita State University, where he will study aerospace and mechanical engineering.
Ian McMurtry