Vought V-173: The Flying Pancake

If I put the US Navy's development of this flying breakfast entree of an aircraft in a novel, my editor would strike it. Over the top, she would say. Beyond belief. And she'd be right. Yet another instance of truth trumping fiction. So here it is instead in a blog post…


In the early 1940s, the Navy needed fighter planes that could be deployed from ships to counter Japanese kamikaze attacks. Enter Charles Zimmerman, an aerodynamicist at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, who theorized that a disk-shaped fuselage could contribute to lift.



He designed the experimental Vought V-173 Flying Pancake" with a pair of 80-horsepower Continental A-80 air-cooled engines driving massive 16.5-foot-diameter wooden propellers—so large that the aircraft needed to sit at a 22-degree-upward angle prior to take-off. The core idea was that the entire aircraft would contribute to lift.


It first flew in 1942, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, 13 minutes at 100 MPH.


Nearly 200 test flights later, it proved the viability of Zimmerman's design and earned him the Wright Brothers Medal.


Seeing is believing: A V-173 is now part of the Smithsonian collection at the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration, and Storage Facility in Suitland, Maryland. You may also want to visit the IHOP nearby.