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What Is the Worst Fighter Plane of All Time?

Worst Fighter Ever Sea Vixen. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Worst Fighter Ever Sea Vixen. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

What is the worst fighter plane ever? We often discuss the latest and greatest fighter planes – the ones with the coolest designs and best features – usually next-generation and stealthy as all get out.

But what about the worst fighter plane of all time?

This distinction has to go to the British Royal Navy’s De Havilland Sea Vixen. An airplane so bad that 38 percent of them crashed by accidents from 1952 to 1972. This thing just looked weird – ok it was “different” – but still a hot mess.

Worst Fighter Plane Ever: Who Designed This Thing?

The Sea Vixen had a twin-boom twin-engine design, and the cockpit was off-set and not in the middle of the airplane. The twin tail boom was supposed to give it more fuel capacity. These features probably led to all the accidents. The British flew them off carriers and stubbornly clung on for 20 years even though the F-4 Phantom was available. There were only 145 Sea Vixens in service over that time and 55 succumbed to some kind of mishap and were lost. And that wasn’t from combat.

Not a Bad Start

The Sea Vixen started off with some promise. A British test pilot by the name of John “Cats Eyes” Cunningham peered into the sky and took it to supersonic speeds in 1951. This was the first British fighter to break the sound barrier. It flew better than the designers thought, and they figured its “all-metal fuselage featuring swept and eventually foldable wings,” would be perfect for carriers, according to a historical snapshot from BAE Systems.

Tragedy Immediately Followed the First Flight

The airplane had Rolls-Royce Avon 208 turbojets that were deemed sufficient at the time. But trouble started early. Just a year later in 1952, as the Farnborough Air Show, a Sea Vixen broke apart during a high-speed, high-G maneuver. The pilot was trying to create a sonic boom to wow the crowd, but the airplane’s engines hurtled into the crowd and killed 29 people along with the pilot and flight engineer.

The British Didn’t Give Up

This should have been enough to cancel the program right there. But designers tried to save the airplane. They constructed the air frame stronger and made other adjustments over the next 12 months and then put another prototype in the air. The airplane did well in tests off carriers and the Royal Navy ordered 110 models. The navy then wanted a better radar which slowed down development. By 1959, it was ready for deployment.

Patrol Flights Only

Thankfully, the Sea Vixen never saw aerial combat, but it did patrol in various dust-ups and troop deployments the British were involved in during the 1960s. The closest it came to being used in anger was when they fired their weapons at a wrecked tanker that ran aground off Cornwall in 1967. This was done to stifle the oil leak from creating more environmental damage.

Sea Vixen Mod

The third semi-navalised prototype demonstrating at the 1955 Farnborough Air Show. Image: Creative Commons.

de Havilland Sea Vixen

The de Havilland Sea Vixen. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Not Much to Write Home About

It could only carry four air-to-air missiles. It usually couldn’t break the sound barrier and flew rarely over 690 miles per hour.

No Joy in This Airplane called it a “death trap.” More than half of the 55 accidents were deadly. 51 aviators were killed flying the Sea Vixen. Some of the incidents were unlucky and bizarre. Once on a carrier landing, a Sea Vixen hit several parked airplanes, destroyed them, and somehow managed to take off again and land at a shore base with eight feet of its right wing missing.

It finally retired in 1972. But some British naval personnel said the airplane had life left in it. They complained it could still be used even though the weapons were clearly outdated, and the thing was dangerous to fly. The Sea Vixen once in a while makes appearances at air shows, let’s hope the crew and spectators survive.

Bonus: Meet the F-35 Stealth Fighter

F-35I Adir

Israeli Air Force F-35I Adir stealth multi-role fighter.


A Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35C Joint Strike Fighter is shown on the deck of the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier after making the plane’s first ever carrier landing using its tailhook system, off the coast of California, November 3, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Blake (UNITED STATES – Tags: TRANSPORT MILITARY)/File Photo


A U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II aircraft assigned to the 34th Fighter Squadron receives fuel from a KC-10 Extender aircraft over Poland, February 24, 2022. U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Joseph Barron/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

F-35 Beast Mode

U.S. Marines with Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 , Marine Air Control Group 38, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW), refuel a U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 225, Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 13, 3rd MAW, on a Forward Arming and Refueling Point at U.S. Army Yuma Proving Grounds, Yuma, Arizona, May 23, 2022. The weapons configuration consists of six inert GBU-12 bombs, four mounted onto the wings and two loaded into the weapons bay, as well as an AIM-9X air-to-air training missile. MAG-13 forces are capable of conducting Offensive Air Support, Antiair Warfare, and Aviation Reconnaissance from expeditionary sites in any clime and place. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Samuel Ruiz)

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Expert Biography: Serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.