7 gigantic technological inventions that ultimately failed

Konstantin Sheiko
March 12, 2018

Last week we wrote about the largest airplane in the world that is currently being built in the US. In order to achieve a successful status of serial production, this enormous machine must meet two criteria: first of all, we are talking about its economic viability, and secondly, the thing must fly, and fly well. Otherwise, chances are it will face the oblivion, joining the museum pantheon of many other similar projects. 

Let’s face it - humanity has always had a love/hate relationship with huge projects – we love them because we are proud of our own ingenuity and our capabilities, and we hate them because the damn things are so ridiculously expensive and hard to build. Below are seven examples of technologically daring and incredible projects that, in the end, were the ultimate failure and disappointment. 

1.  Digital programmable computer prototype. 

In the first half of 19th-century the English inventor, Charles Babbage attempted to build world's first calculus/ analytical machine that can roughly be described as humanity’s first computer. The machine used the punch cards to process and analyze information, had a storage space for processed data, and could perform the advanced mathematical routine. This computer was the size of a steam train, and the project never came to fruition due to exorbitant costs and the primitive technological edge of that time. 

2. Panzer 1000 'Ratte' 

During World War Two Hitler’s Germany spent massive amounts of money on various technological projects. While some of them - like the V1 and V2 rockets, or the jets, have eventually evolved into modern space rockets and airplanes, others were completely useless. One of Hitler’s dreams was to create the largest battle tank in the world: it was supposed to be an 11-meter tall, 35-meter long, 1000-ton monster called the Rat (Ratte). 

Armed with eight AA guns, this tank housed a crew of 40 soldiers protected by 25 cm armor. Although the tank looked truly impressive, the project didn’t succeed. The vehicle was too heavy for its own good and literally sank through the earth since there were no roads capable of supporting this monster. Operation wise, this tank was too much of a target for the enemy’s troops, while its maneuverability was questionable at best. 

3. The Heliopolis 

The king of Macedonia Dimitry I (about 300 BC) had a passion for various siege engines. Macedonians kept on building huge constructions according to their king’s orders, and the culmination of all their efforts was the creation of Heliopolis. It was nine stories high, 40-meters tall, 20-meters wide, and 150-ton armored siege tower. 3,400 people were required to move this beast toward its first target, the city of Rhodes: however, the besieged defenders were aware of the threat and flooded the surrounding landscape, effectively rendering the Heliopolis obsolete, as it got hopelessly stuck in the mud. 

4. Soviet N-1 Moon rocket.

The Soviet super heavy N-1 rocket was supposed to be a competitor to an American Saturn – 5 during the “Moon Race”. Despite the fact that Korolev himself developed this rocket, it never made it to outer space due to multiple technological challenges that the construction team was unable to fix. 

5. The George Bennie Airway Railplane 

At the end of 1920’s George Bennie presented a brand new type of a vehicle called the railplane. It had propellers and on board engines, capable of speeding the machine up to 190 km per hour. The railplane was going to connect Edinburgh and Glasgow, and Southport and Blackpool, but the ambitious project went bankrupt, leaving the prototype rusting away.

6. ?alinin ?-7 

Soviet gigantic airplane Kalinin K-7 was developed in early 1930’s and could be used for civilian and military purposes. It was 26-meters long, boasting seven engines, 12 men crew and a wingspan of 53 meters. Its first prototype crashed on 21.11.1933, and the project was abandoned. 

7. Lockheed Star ?lipper 

A 65-meter long Lockheed Star Clipper was an ambitious space shuttle project of the 1960’s, capable of lifting up to nine tons – more than any other rocket around this time. Star ?lipper was supposed to shed its fuel tanks in space, gliding back into the earth’s atmosphere on retractable wings. The project never materialized because of the complexity of its design.

‘Large’ doesn’t necessarily equate with ‘good’ when we are talking about machinery – way too many world’s projects failed because of their size, or the ambitions of their designers.