Ford created the first prototype of “flying car” and wanted to sell it to everyone, but his dream ended in an accident
Henry Ford also failed miserably. After the Ford Model T, the North American founder wanted to replicate the success with an even more ambitious project: the Ford Flivver, a “flying car” for the masses. What your Model T was to the vehicles of the time, the Flivver it had to become that individual flying vehicle that would revolutionize the way we move. The press of the time referred to him as “Ford’s flying car”, the “Model T of the air”. Expectations were high and his own name, derived from a play on words to refer to a “cheap car”, made clear his goal of democratizing flying cars.
“Remember my words: we will have a combination of plane and car. You can laugh, but it will come”, cried out Ford. More than 70 years later, flying cars are still not a reality, but the automotive pioneer already tried it in his day. A disastrous attempt that resulted in the death of the only person who ever flew in the Flivver. “One of the worst planes that I have been able to fly”, as the pilot himself described. This is the story of the Flivver, the project that ended up causing Ford to leave the aviation industry.
Henry Ford’s dream: a single-seater plane in every garage
On his 63rd birthday, Henry Ford introduced the Ford Flivver. A story that ended two years later, in 1928, with the accident of Harry J. Brooks, the 25-year-old driver tasked with testing the vehicle. Henry Ford’s relationship with Brooks was close and his passing caused a deep shock in him, to the point of abandoning not only the Flivver project, but also all of Ford’s other aviation businesses.
Ford’s origin in the aviation sector dates back to 1924, when they bought the Stout Metal Airplane Company. The first years were successful, with the construction of the Ford Tri-Motor and the arrival to the South Pole financed by them. But Henry Ford had more ambitious plans. If they had managed to bring a car to each person, why not also a plane to each garage?
The Flivver to practice was a single-seater plane. Although the intention was to replicate the success of the Model T and that all Americans had one of these “flying cars” in their garage, the resources that went to it were not nearly as generous. Otto Koppen was the engineer who led the prototype, a single-seater whose fuselage was made of alloy steel and where the wings were covered in wood with cloth.
In all, they had a small single-seat plane measuring 4.72 m meters and it had a wingspan of about 6.63 meters. The first version had a three-cylinder 35hp engine, but it was later downgraded to two magnesium cylinders. Its light weight was about 227 kg when empty. A size and weight very far from the planes of the time and even reduced figures for the planes of the moment, but with the capacity to reach up to 140 km / h.
The first flight tests came in 1928. Brooks wanted to set a new distance record for light aircraft, but halfway between Detroit and Miami he had to stop. Months later, a new test was conducted in Florida, and a record distance of 930 miles was reached. The test was a success, but that day Brooks took off again for a short trip to Miami. And he was not heard from for a few hours. Something had gone wrong and the Flivver was discovered submerged in water, off the coast of Melbourne, Florida.
Initially it was thought that the cause of the accident was motor, but when they analyzed the wreckage, engineers discovered that the rudder cable had broken, leaving the pilot out of control.
Henry Ford’s plan was to continue with the Flivver despite the accident, at least so he assured reporters at the time. Ford continued in the industry for a few years, helping build the B-24 during World War II, but never again did he undertake a serious project in this field. Harold Hicks, Ford’s chief engineer during the 1920s, explicaba a Associated Press what the pilot’s death affected Ford deeply and his idea of a single-seater plane stopped convincing him.
Under the Stout Metal division and not under the Ford brand, there were several attempts. In 1931 with the Air Flivver and in 1936 with the two-seat Model 15-P, but the latter prototype also crashed during flight tests and never made it into production. Today you can visit a replica of the Ford Flivver in the EAA Aviation Museum de Wisconsin.