The zany world of identified flying objects

From flying pancakes and chainsaws to prototype jets and spacecraft, IFOs are way cooler than UFOs

Unidentified flying objects may get all of the press but the world is stuffed full of identified flying things that are arguably way more interesting. This list is by no means exhaustive but here we take a look at a number of flying craft that invoke the UFO spirit in shape and uniqueness. 

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The flying pancake

The flying pancake

According to the Smithsonian’s Air&Space magazine, the Flying Pancake, or v-173 had huge 16.5-foot-diameter wooden propellers driven by two 80-horsepower Continental A-80 air-cooled engines. The  first Pancake flew on Nov. 23, 1942, as part of a Navy program to test the lifting capability of short, stubby wings. The propellers were so large that the aircraft rested at a 22-degree-upward angle, forcing the pilot to look through the windows at his feet when taking off or landing. The Pancake made more than 190 flights and accumulated 131 hours of flight time (with Charles Lindbergh taking it for at least one flight).

Russian EKIP/Tarielka

The Russian EKIP/Tarielka looks a bit like an over-stuffed donut and certainly fits the UFO-like mold. The EKIP was designed to lift heavy loads (100 and more tons) at long distances (thousands of kilometers) at a speed of 500-700 km/h at the altitude of 8-13 km. These flying vehicles can move near the surface of ground or water using the air cushion at a speed up to 160 km/h, according to the aircraft’s manufacturer. The EKIP can land on airfields of any category, including ground and water surfaces.


NASA has developed a number of devices to decelerate spacecraft that look very much like flying saucers.

Stipa-Caproni Flying Barrel

The Stipa-Caproni Flying Barrel was an experimental Italian aircraft designed in 1932 and featured a hollow, barrel-shaped fuselage with the engine and propeller completely enclosed by the fuselage. From the front or rear it looks like a big flying Dyson bladeless fan.

The Sikorsky Cypher was an unmanned aircraft designed during the 1980s for reconnaissance missions. 

Project 1794

From the National Archives site: “This illustration was discovered in the pages of a document titled “Project 1794, Final Development Summary Report”  The caption reads “USAF Project 1794”. However, the Air Force had contracted the work out to a Canadian company, Avro Aircraft Limited in Ontario, to construct the disk-shaped craft.”  This version never materialized but other Avro machines did as we will see.


On paper the Avrocar was intended to be a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft that could hit speeds of up to Mach 4. Reality however was another matter. The National Archives wrote: “The Avrocar’s disc shape and ability to hover bring to mind the flying saucers that we associate with extraterrestrial sources, but the project never really got off the ground–both figuratively and literally. From the start, the design was unstable and difficult to fly. Through extensive testing and modifications, Canada’s Avro Aircraft Limited was able to improve stability, but the Avrocar was still only able to hover at a height of about three feet and travel at speeds not exceeding 35 mph.”

Goodyear Aircraft

In 1954, several years before spaceflight began, space enthusiast Darrell Romick and two other Goodyear Aircraft workers designed this model of a reusable space transportation system and displayed it at the American Rocket Society's annual conference. Three piloted, winged rocket stages nested in a column would fire in sequence to launch the third stage at the top into orbit. All had retractable landing gear and could be flown as a glider during the return to landing. Although the concept was too massive to be practical at the time, it was an early vision for a space shuttle that could ferry people and equipment to and from an Earth-orbiting space station. The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company gave this model to the Museum in 1980.


NASA studied this concept for a partially reusable space transportation system during the Shuttle research effort in 1969-1972. This two-stage system featured an orbiter and disposable external fuel tank attached to a disposable first-stage similar to the Saturn V booster previously used to launch astronauts to the Moon. After the booster burned out and was jettisoned, the orbiter's engines, fed from the attached disposable tank, would ignite for final ascent into orbit. This concept sought to reduce cost by making use of proven, existing booster technology rather than developing a new launch vehicle for the orbiter. NASA transferred a variety of concept models to the Museum after settling on the final Space Shuttle design.

NASA studied this Lockheed Martin concept for a partially reusable space transportation system during the Shuttle research effort in 1969-1971. It featured a delta-wing orbiter vehicle flanked by two large external fuel tanks. It was called a stage-and-a-half vehicle because the orbiter would launch itself without a booster and fly all the way to orbit using its own rocket engines fed by the external fuel tanks (the half-stage), which would be jettisoned when empty. The reusable orbiter had retractable wings and air-breathing jet engines that deployed after reentry, enabling it to fly like an airplane to landing. NASA transferred a variety of concept models to the Museum after settling on the final Space Shuttle design.

flying chainsaw

Certainly the “flying chainsaw” would have looked the part of a spacecraft in 1942 when it was conceived by Northrup. The XP-79B was intended as a jet-powered aircraft built from magnesium that could actually ram other aircraft to bring them down, while not killing the XP’s pilot. Sadly the one prototype that did fly, killed that test pilot. The program was aborted after that.

Hiller Advanced Research Division

The Hiller Advanced Research Division (A.R.D.) incorporated a five foot fiberglass round wing, (ducted fan) with twin counter rotating coaxial propellers powered by two 44hp/4000 rpm, four cylinder opposed, two-cycle, Nelson H-59 Engines. The Nelson engine was the first two-cycle engine certified by the FAA for aircraft use. Utilizing the Bernoulli principle, 40% of the vehicle's lift was generated by air moving over the ducted fan's leading edge. The remaining 60% of lift was generated by thrust from the counter rotating propellers.  Of the six Flying Platforms that were built, the (ONR) vehicle is on exhibit at the Hiller Aviation Museum, and the National Air & Space Museum.


Another Hiller aircraft that never made it.


Another prototype aircraft that looked like a flying saucer was the NS-97 which had a disc shape that featured a revolving outer shell and held eight turbo-jet ports. The center of the disc stayed stationary, along with the cockpit for the pilot. Two main jets provided the push and the eight turbo-jets provided the spin. 


Like UFOs, many of the saucer craft supposedly built or at least being developed by the Germans toward the end of WW II have a mythology all their own. A nice history of those aircraft is here. The term Foo Fighter in fact comes from WW II pilots who spotted a variety of aircraft they couldn’t identify. According to a Wikipedia entry: Though "foo fighter" initially described a type of UFO reported and named by the U.S. 415th Night Fighter Squadron, the term was also commonly used to mean any UFO sighting from that period.

Lockheed P-791

Known as a hybrid airship, this prototype Lockheed P-791 flew in 2006 successfully completing all flight test objectives. The two man proof-of-concept featured fully functional digital flight controls and an air cushion landing system.


The extremely short take off and landing on any surface (ESTOLAS) aircraft is designed to meld the best qualities of an airship, a plane, a helicopter and a hovercraft. It is still under development and is likely to turn a few heads should you ever see one fly overhead.

Snecma Flying Coleoptere

The French company SNECMA built the Snecma Flying Coleoptere (C-450) in the 1950s to address short takeoff and landing issues. According to its Wikipedia entry several prototypes developed and tested, however the design proved to be very unstable and flying it was dangerous.

Hyper III

NASAs’ Hyper III was a low-cost test vehicle for an advanced lifting-body shape. It had a steel-tube frame covered with Dacron, a fiberglass nose, sheet aluminum fins, and a wing from an HP-11 sailplane. Although the Hyper III was to be flown remotely in its initial tests, it was fitted with a cockpit for a pilot.

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