A wry view of life for the world-weary

There Ain’t ‘Alf Some Clever Bastards – Part Eleven


Henry Smolinski

We live in a world full of multi-functional devices. You are probably reading this on a device on which you can make phone calls, surf the internet, play videos, games and listen to music. The desire to kill two (or more) birds with one stone goes back a long way – just think of the Swiss Army knife.

And there are some frontiers to crack. Just take transportation. A car is great from getting from A to B and is very manoeuvrable. However, it is inefficient or useless if you have to travel great distances or there is an obstacle like a mountain range, a sea or an ocean in the way. An aeroplane conversely is great for long distances and overcoming geographical obstacles but doesn’t have the manoeuvrability of a car. Why not combine the two into one?

Step forward the latest inductee into our Hall of Fame, Henry Smolinski.

Smolinski was an engineer by profession and was trained at Northrop, a major American aircraft manufacturer. He left to form a company of his own, Advanced Vehicle Engineers, which was focused on bringing a car which flew to the unsuspecting public.

In 1973 he had developed his first two prototypes, achieved by fusing the rear end of a Cessna Skymaster with a Ford Pinto car. The tail section was designed to be detachable. It was intended that both the aircraft’s engine and the car’s engine would be used for take-off, thus shortening the take-off roll. Once airborne, the car engine would be turned off. Once the machine had landed, the four-wheel braking system would stop it within 160 metres or less. Telescoping wing supports would be extended and the airframe tied down like any other aircraft. The Pinto could then be unbolted and driven off like any other car. Simple – what could go wrong?

The intention was to put the mad-cap design into production in 1974 – prices would range from $18,300 to $29,000 – but, not unnaturally, it needed to be tested.

On 26th August 1973 test pilot, Charles Janisse, took off from Camarillo airport in California but soon aborted and ditched the machine in a bean field, reporting that the right wing strut base mounting had failed.

Undeterred, Smolinski himself conducted the next test flight on, ominously, 11th September.  Again the right-wing strut detached from the Pinto but this time with an inexperienced pilot at the helm, the wing folded as the novice pilot tried to turn the craft. The result was a catastrophic crash which resulted in the deaths of Smolinski and his associate, Harold Blake.

An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board reported that bad welds were partly responsible for the crash as well as poor design. So the flying car is still a pipe-dream but at least Smolinski was prepared to put himself at risk to further technological advance – an attribute that makes him a worthy member of our mad-cap Hall of Fame.


If you enjoyed this, why not try Fifty Clever Bastards by Martin Fone which is now available on Amazon in Kindle format and paperback. For details follow the link


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