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 Beautiful but useless ... nominations for the world's most appealing technological flops.

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nordmann
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PostSubject: Beautiful but useless ... nominations for the world's most appealing technological flops.   Fri 23 Mar 2012, 14:07

In West Germany (as it then was) in the late 50s and early 60s, at the height of the Cold War US and British air defence deployment there, the joke went thus:

"I say, I say, I say. How does one get one's own Starfighter?"

"Buy a field and wait."


The Lockheed F-104 Starfighter was, for its time, arguably the most futuristically designed fighter aircraft in the world. Its originator at Lockheed's Skunk Works, the legendary Clarence "Kelly" Johnson, had been charged with producing what must have sounded like the impossible. The Soviet MiG-15 had been unveiled during the Korean War and returning US pilots had quite rightly demanded that the US Air Force provide something similar, having fought the war in an ageing - and fast growing redundant - air fleet in which the aerodynamics of their jet-engined interceptors were still very much at the same level as the first jet-engined fighters at WWII's close. They had recently got the Sabre, which was a huge improvement, but which when compared to what MiG were pulling out of their hat still meant that a direct confrontation between US and Soviet fighters, should it ever occur, would be akin to sending Gypsy Moths up against Messerchmitt 109s in the Battle of Britain. The USAF approached Lockheed with a simple, if severely optimistic, demand - produce a fighter which not only would outclass the Soviet equivalents, but could be adapted at minimal expense to accommodate improvements in jet engine technology over the next two decades. Johnson, the best designer they had, understood the remit; design a fighter for engines which have not yet even been envisaged let alone designed. He set to work.

In 1955 he began by telling his design team to forget anything they thought they knew regarding aerodynamics, comparative material stress ratios and engine capabilities, and to start from a new (if odd) perspective. Imagine how would all these things be in 1970 (then way in the future) and then design a plane for that. For inspiration he advised them to study, not the latest impressive Soviet designs, but those of cartoonists and artists whose copious fantasies illustrated the burgeoning sci-fi craze in the US at the time. Comics, pulp sci-fi novellas, movie posters and magazines arrived in Skunk Works by the truckload and were voraciously devoured by Johnson and his team until, in 1958, the fruit of their labours finally rolled off the production line and straight into USAF service. It was sleek, it was silver, it was terrifying to behold

And it crashed. And it crashed again. And again.

By 1959 it had already acquired amongst pilots the nickname "The Widow Maker", and though subsequent variations overcame its aerodynamic and structural flaws to a huge degree it was a soubriquet the plane never managed to shake off. It didn't help Lockheed that the older planes, once superseded, were often sold off to other air forces by the US government, only to ensure that its deserved early reputation went global, and for many more years than it need have done. A huge bribery scandal surrounding its original purchase didn't help much either. Lockheed's heyday as the leading innovators in fighter technology was over - their next moment in the sun having to wait until the arrival of stealth aircraft and the 1981 F-117 Nighthawk. The Nighthawk was a ground attack aircraft which of course was not really a fighter at all, its F designation being therefore rather misleading. There were many pilots who might once have said the same for the Starfighter - or, it must be said, have even ventured to suggest what the "F" in fact stood for!



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PostSubject: Re: Beautiful but useless ... nominations for the world's most appealing technological flops.   Fri 23 Mar 2012, 16:06

The Americans also planned a fleet of intercontinental supersonic bombers and came up with the B-70 Valkyrie. In the end, they decided to go with ICBMs and only two B-70s were built. One of them crashed after a mid-air collision [and yes,it was with an F-104].

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nEP7niGqiNg

The other soldiered on as a test aircraft before being retired to a museum
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PostSubject: Re: Beautiful but useless ... nominations for the world's most appealing technological flops.   Fri 23 Mar 2012, 19:43

R100
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PostSubject: Re: Beautiful but useless ... nominations for the world's most appealing technological flops.   Fri 23 Mar 2012, 20:42



Beautiful, useless and ridiculously expensive. A fork makes a better and less messy job.
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PostSubject: Re: Beautiful but useless ... nominations for the world's most appealing technological flops.   Fri 23 Mar 2012, 21:08

Ferval you beat me to that one. I've got a house full of "designer" stuff like that (care of other half) including one of those useless Philip Stark lemon squeezers.... All designer names but all badly designed to my mind as "not fit for purpose". Other half always called me a heathen for not appreciating them but I never could see why these things commanded such prices when they don't work.


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PostSubject: Re: Beautiful but useless ... nominations for the world's most appealing technological flops.   Sat 24 Mar 2012, 05:15

What is it though? Looks like something from War Of The Worlds.
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PostSubject: Re: Beautiful but useless ... nominations for the world's most appealing technological flops.   Sat 24 Mar 2012, 07:00

A lemon squeezer ID, designed by Philip Stark... though as ferval says if you want the juice of a lemon you are better off using a fork.
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PostSubject: Re: Beautiful but useless ... nominations for the world's most appealing technological flops.   Sat 24 Mar 2012, 07:14

Not really a technical flop but certainly a commercial flop:

The DeLorean DMC-12 sports car.


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PostSubject: Re: Beautiful but useless ... nominations for the world's most appealing technological flops.   Sat 24 Mar 2012, 07:17

Or for a more technical flop, at least until the problems were solved, how about London's bouncy Millenium Bridge.
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PostSubject: Re: Beautiful but useless ... nominations for the world's most appealing technological flops.   Sat 24 Mar 2012, 10:26

I suggest that the Concorde comes under this heading because for all of its beauty and high tech quality it really came too late because it was not as fast as conferencing on the net. Urgent and speedy meetings no longer needing a presence. In this case not a technical fault, it was a necessity let down. Not convinced that this is what the topic demands though.
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PostSubject: Re: Beautiful but useless ... nominations for the world's most appealing technological flops.   Sat 24 Mar 2012, 11:23

I suppose "beautiful but just not viable" is really all the criteria that are required here, so whether it's the Concorde or a lemon squeezer is immaterial - both looked good but failed ultimately in their objective due to impracticalities - the lemon squeezer self-inflicted by the designer, the Concorde due to changing economics and customer expectations. The DeLorean fits into the latter category too. Not sure about the R100 - was it regarded as a thing of special beauty? Its design was very close to that of all airships of the period. And as for the Millennium Bridge ... well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder etc etc. (I was on it in its bouncy phase - one of the last to be allowed cross it at the time. It was closed later that day.)

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PostSubject: Re: Beautiful but useless ... nominations for the world's most appealing technological flops.   Sat 24 Mar 2012, 14:28

I was wondering about the imac PC.



Steve Jobs apparently said of them "It looks so good you kinda' wanna lick it". My father in law got one in about 2001 and raved about it, purely on esthetic grounds as he was basically computer illiterate. But I always thought they were huge bulky things built around a cathode ray tube just when the future was already going towards flat screens, and I was happy to get as much stuff as possible hidden away under the desk (although my memory may be playing me false with dates and expectations around the year 2000).

But after googling it seems that despite some technical controversies the imac did a lot to restore Apple's failing fortunes - so I guess they cannot really have been a flop at all considering the rapidity of turnover of computer hardware.
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PostSubject: Re: Beautiful but useless ... nominations for the world's most appealing technological flops.   Sat 24 Mar 2012, 15:45

The Sinclair QL - and its derivative, the ICL One Per Desk. Nothing wrong with them - well, three things wrong with them. They ddn't have the Magic Letters I, B, and M, and weren't compatible with the (probably less capable) computer that did boast them.
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PostSubject: Re: Beautiful but useless ... nominations for the world's most appealing technological flops.   Sat 24 Mar 2012, 16:24

Were they beautiful though?
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PostSubject: Re: Beautiful but useless ... nominations for the world's most appealing technological flops.   Sat 24 Mar 2012, 17:39

In a similar vein, the Sinclair C5, its daddy must have thought it was beautiful.
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PostSubject: Re: Beautiful but useless ... nominations for the world's most appealing technological flops.   Sat 24 Mar 2012, 18:19

I'd say the QL was at least as good looking as a Commodore PET, RS80, or Apple III its direct cometitiors, and more handsome than the ubiquitous BBC B found in all UK classrooms in those days.
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PostSubject: Re: Beautiful but useless ... nominations for the world's most appealing technological flops.   Tue 27 Mar 2012, 14:42

I'm not sure if, like the R100 and old Sinclair hardware, this can be classed as "beautiful", but it definitely failed. I wonder why?

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PostSubject: Re: Beautiful but useless ... nominations for the world's most appealing technological flops.   Wed 28 Mar 2012, 23:02

What ever happened to the soda siphon? Once there was one in most houses and sometimes even with a fancy dish to sit in in case it dripped onto the french polishing.



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PostSubject: Re: Beautiful but useless ... nominations for the world's most appealing technological flops.   Thu 29 Mar 2012, 10:10

Illuminated tyres from 1961!

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PostSubject: Re: Beautiful but useless ... nominations for the world's most appealing technological flops.   Wed 25 Sep 2013, 13:12

Tail fins on automobiles ... absolutely no aerodynamic contribution (actually the opposite) and for a few glorious years the subject of competition between car manufacturers as to who could produce the biggest and flashiest. Sometimes they just looked silly - well a lot of the time actually - but sometimes, just sometimes, they were things of real beauty.


Cadillac version
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PostSubject: Re: Beautiful but useless ... nominations for the world's most appealing technological flops.   Thu 26 Sep 2013, 16:28

Perhaps the UK's festival of Britain's 'Skylon' has been nominated; I recall a fuss about its uselessness and cost  but I was enthralled by the science and its shape...... I don't upload pics so someone might do it for me.


(Done - nordmann)
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PostSubject: Re: Beautiful but useless ... nominations for the world's most appealing technological flops.   Tue 01 Oct 2013, 08:52

I wouldn't say they were beautiful - or even technically "useless" as they were used for a time,  Sincerely Thine having travelled on them, but the bendy-bus in London was never really beloved of the population of the city.  Bringing back a double-decker was one of the first things Boris Poshlad put into effect when he became Mayor of London.  Cities abroad seem to be able to operate bendy type buses without problems though.
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PostSubject: Re: Beautiful but useless ... nominations for the world's most appealing technological flops.   Sat 05 Apr 2014, 14:40

@Meles meles wrote:
Not really a technical flop but certainly a commercial flop:

The DeLorean DMC-12 sports car.

Similarly the Smart Roadster (2003-2005):



Despite being a 'sports' car which somewhat contradictorily had automatic transmission, initial sales numbers were excellent. Quality control at the factory, however, wasn't and Daimler ended up losing thousands of Euros in warranty claims per vehicle. Barely 3 years after it was launched, production was abruptly terminated in 2006.
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PostSubject: Re: Beautiful but useless ... nominations for the world's most appealing technological flops.   Sat 05 Apr 2014, 14:48

I used to have a Smart Roadster convertible just like that one ..... Having no garage it had to stay outside and every time it rained, before you could drive, it was necessary to siphon out all the water from the foot well which was sometimes almost two inches deep! Thankfully I managed to sell it for a reasonable sum in 2011 to someone that had a garage, so maybe he's still unaware that it leaks like a sieve.
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PostSubject: Re: Beautiful but useless ... nominations for the world's most appealing technological flops.   Mon 23 Feb 2015, 15:55

The Convair F2Y seaplane jet fighter,


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PostSubject: Re: Beautiful but useless ... nominations for the world's most appealing technological flops.   Mon 23 Feb 2015, 16:55

Where can I get one? Our estuary sailing is seriously under threat from many people on jet ski thingies that churn about, run down swimmers dislodge moorings, ruin racers make an awful noise and only prove how inept their handlers are in water - and probably on land too. I could police them quite well with one of these - herding them into muddy salting channels comes to mind - or out to sea.
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PostSubject: Re: Beautiful but useless ... nominations for the world's most appealing technological flops.   Sat 21 Nov 2015, 14:06



Picture courtesy of War History Online, Krupp's proposed "Landkeuzer" (Land Cruiser). This four storey high tank would have a crew of 20, would be large enough to accommodate full crew quarters and a lavatory, and received the full enthusiastic blessing of Adolf Hitler who ordered its development when the idea was first presented to him by Krupp director Eduard Grote in June 1942.

The P.1000 was essentially First World War thinking in a theatre of war that now bore no resemblance in the slightest to that which had prevailed 25 years previously. If built there wasn't a road in Europe that could have borne its weight, nor a single bridge it could have crossed, and most crucially of all, its size meant that there was nowhere in practical terms for it to hide from aerial reconnaissance and bombardment. Such was the demand on fuel to power its 17,000hp engine that it was estimated a 20km drive would be the equivalent in fuel consumption to a 1,600km round trip by a Heinkel bomber. And nor could there even be envisaged a logical scenario in which it could be deployed. Its almost non-existent manoeuvrability made it offensively almost irrelevant and defensively as effective as a small gun battery without the latter's protection.

By 1943 the sheer ridculousness of the project had to be acknowledged by even the battiest elements of the Nazi leadership. Albert Speer, reportedly risking Hitler's ire, cancelled the project before a prototype could be built.
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PostSubject: Re: Beautiful but useless ... nominations for the world's most appealing technological flops.   Mon 23 Nov 2015, 14:53

I wonder if it was, at least partly, the inspiration for Moorcock's story;

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PostSubject: Re: Beautiful but useless ... nominations for the world's most appealing technological flops.   Thu 26 Nov 2015, 13:07

Maybe, or maybe it was the even bigger version that Krupp also proposed later the same year once they got the green light for the P.1000. The P.1500 (the numbers representing the tonnage in each case) was appropriately labelled the "Monster" by Krupp.



The Monster's main artillery piece would be an incorporated "Schwerer Gustav" (Heavy Gustav) cannon which fired 800mm shells. Only one such gun existed and was used by the Germans in their siege of Sevastopol, to devastating effect despite the fact that it had required the construction of an entire railway line to reach the port city and then could only fire a maximum of 14 rounds a day. Nevertheless by the time it was finished it had accounted for most of the city's destruction as well as that of underground arsenals and bunkers (one under 30 metres of water offshore) hitherto regarded as impregnable. Schwerer Gustav was moved to Leningrad but abandoned there and ultimately destroyed by its owners when everything went pear-shaped for them there and so the Russians couldn't turn it against them. Had the Monster accommodated a version of Gustav it is reckoned it could never have travelled over 5km per hour, regardless of how suitable the terrain.



One of Gustav's 800mm shells in the IWM in London next to a Soviet T-34-85, helps give an indication of just how much bang it had!
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PostSubject: Re: Beautiful but useless ... nominations for the world's most appealing technological flops.   Thu 26 Nov 2015, 14:02

It's a Monster right enough.

There was a programme last Sunday about the V-3 super gun that the Germans planned to bombard London with;

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