Because Pinto. It might not come as a surprise that this flying Ford Pinto met its demise amidst smoke and flames, but what might surprise you is that it wasn’t cause by a faulty gas tank.
With an engineering degree from Northrop’s Institute of Technology in his back pocket, Henry Smolinski might have been high when he envisioned a Cessna Skymaster doing a Ford Pinto doggy style. Smolinski founded Advanced Vehicle Engineering (AVE) with the simple concept of attaching the rear half of a Cessna Skymaster to typical consumer family automobile, introducing what was to be known as the AVE Mizar. The Cessna 337 Skymaster proved to be a viable option since it was already fitted with a twin-boom tail for increased stability and a rear facing “pusher” propellor that would be detached for road operations.
This concept of an airplane car mashup was not new. In fact, the first certified flying car on record, the Fulton Airphibian, employed a similar design in which the wings and rear fuselage would detach and the forward car section would drive away for road use.
Unlike the Fulton Airphibian, the Mizar utilized a separate rear facing aviation power plant for flight and a front automotive engine to drive the wheels for road use. The extra power provided from the front engine driving the wheels would also significantly decrease takeoff roll and upon landing, the 4-wheel braking would bring the vehicle to a stop in under 600 feet. When parked, the telescoping wing supports would extend to support the airframe and the Pinto would be unbolted and drive away.
As with any new product undergoing research and development, AVE hit many roadblocks including a series of underpowered engines and range of different propellers. No incident was more critical than when a wing strut mount weld failed shortly after takeoff with test pilot Charles “Red” Janisse behind the controls. Realizing that turning would put too much stress on the unsupported wing, Janisse continued straight ahead and put the aircraft down in a field, later driving the virtually undamaged vehicle back to the airport.
Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. With Smolinski himself and AVE co-cofounder Harold Blake at the controls, the same weld decided to fail once again. This time with catastrophic results. Smolinski failed to recognize the problem and exacerbated the condition by over controlling to make an emergency landing. The wing collapsed and the pinto crashed in a field and was destroyed by fire.
The AVE Mizar had quite the potential. A roadable aircraft has been the unicorn of aviation since the Wright Brothers learned to ride bicycles. While most earlier visions of flying cars remained firmly attached to the drawing board, the AVE Mizar literally soared above the rest. Smolinski had defied the odds, built 2 prototypes and planned to start production when tragedy struck, halting further progress on the project. The NTSB cited several factors in the cause of the crash, but concluded that the strut attachment failure was the probable cause resulting in a post-crash fire.
With the vision behind the project perishing along with the only flying prototype, the Advanced Vehicle Engineering perished as well. With a recent news of flying like the TerraFugia and AeroMobil literally taking to the skies, will this generation get to see Smolinski’s dream realized?