Man’s’ preoccupation with the capability to escape his earthly domain and soar amongst the clouds has led to innumerable ingenious methods of getting aloft. Some methods have been practical – others not so much. Case in point – the AVE Mizar flying car, affectionately known as “The Flying Pinto”. Yes, “Pinto”, as in the “death trap” automobile manufactured by Ford in the 1970’s. For those that have always dreamt of a George Jetson-like flying car, you’ll be happy to hear that it did indeed fly quite well through many test flights in preparation for FAA certification – until one day its wings fell off and killed its inventor. Still, it was a beautiful dream while it lasted.
40-year-old Henry Smolinski was no stranger to aeronautics. He attended the Northrop Institute of Technology’s aeronautical engineering school and worked for some time at North American Aviation as a structural engineer working on jet engine and aircraft design. In 1959, he joined Rocketdyne as a project engineer before leaving in 1971 to form his own company, Advanced Vehicle Engineers (AVE) in Van Nuys, California. His objective at AVE – to design a practical, flying car – a door-to-door highway-to-skyway travel vehicle that he hoped would land in every American’s driveway.
His idea was simple enough. Take a small car and a small airplane and put them together to form a vehicle that could be driven to the airport, hooked to the airplane wing and engine assembly, take off from your local airport, then land somewhere else, detach, and drive the vehicle (sans wings) back home.
Smolinski once explained to a group of skeptical reporters (in a typical 1970’s politically-incorrect sort of way):
“We intend to use the wings, the rear (pusher) engine mount, the twin tail booms and the control surfaces of a Cessna Skymaster, and fit them to a dozen modern cars. Our plan is to make the operation so simple that a woman can easily put the two systems together – or separate them – without help.”’
Designed to provide door-to-door transportation, the AVE Mizar vehicle (“Mizar” is the next to the last star in the Big Dipper and also means “horse” which of course, fit well with the Ford Pinto brand) could be driven from the home to the airport where it would be connected to the AVE Mizar airframe. The entire assembly procedure could be accomplished in less than two minutes by backing the auto under the wings of the airframe where a self-aligning track automatically guided it into locking position.
On paper it sounds crazy but truth be told, it worked quite well – for a while anyway.
His first prototype was constructed from a stock Ford Pinto and the rear portion of a Cessna Skymaster airplane (the passenger space and engine were removed from the airplane). The assembled Flying Pinto had a gross weight of 4700 lbs., a fuel capacity of 93 gals (which was consumed at the rate of 13 gallons per hour), a maximum speed of 170-mph, a service ceiling of 16,000 feet, a passenger/baggage load factor of 1400/360 lbs., and an overall length of 28 1/2 ft. with a 38-ft. wing span.
According to Mental Floss, the hybrid automobile/airplane was assembled and operated as follows:
“The Skymaster’s cabin and front engine were removed and the rest of the plane attached to the Pinto, with the wings sitting over the roof and the engine snuggling up against the hatchback. The Pinto was backed into the airframe and four high-strength, self-locking pins were used to hook everything together. The driver’s controls were adapted so that in flight the driver/pilot could control the airframe’s ailerons by turning the steering wheel right or left, and the elevator by pushing and pulling the wheel. Pedals to control the rudder were also installed, and all the flight controls inside the car were attached to the airframe via connections that ran underneath the driver’s side of the car. The Pinto’s dashboard was outfitted with flight instruments like air speed and rate of climb gauges, an altimeter, a directional gyro, fuel pressure gauges, a throttle, and radio navigational equipment.”
Once in the air, the flying car could easily reach altitudes of 12,000 feet, cruise at 130 mph with a range of over 1,000 miles, and land on a 530 foot runway. It is notable that on one early test flight, the right wing strut mounting failed not long after takeoff. Afraid to turn for fear of ripping off the wing, the test pilot flew the aircraft straight ahead and landed in a bean field. Despite the failure, the Flying Pinto became an instant sensation and soon Galpin Ford of Sepulveda (now known as North Hills), California, signed on as a national distributor and priced the vehicle at a very affordable $15,000. The dream was coming close to realization.
In the summer of 1973, a second Flying Pinto prototype was built using a new Teledyne Continental Motors 210 horsepower engine. Over the span of three months, the new prototype was taken on dozens of test flights over Ventura County in preparation for the upcoming FAA certification flights. Towards the end of that summer, on September 11, 1973, the test pilot was not available for a scheduled flight. Smolinsky, confident that his invention would not fail him, took the Flying Pinto on the test flight himself along with a co-pilot, AVE Vice President Harold Blake. They took off at 5:02 PM – and crashed two minutes later.
Air traffic controller Danny Edwards was watching the Flying Pinto through his binoculars as it flew about 1 ½ mile from his vantage point. He recalled that about two minutes after takeoff, he saw the plane’s right wing fold in. The integrity of the aircraft now faulted, the AVE Mizar then twisted, both wings and hundreds of pounds of parts streaming to the ground below. The Flying Pinto, which at this point was just a plain old Fort Pinto suspended thousands of feet above the ground, plummeted to earth where is landed in a deadly, twisted pile of wreckage.
Seyto Marso had a first-hand encounter with the crashed Flying Pinto. Maro said he was just about to enter his pickup when he heard the aircraft and saw it zooming towards him, striking the top of a tree along the way. He began to run but only got about 10 feet before the Flying Pinto crashed on top of his pickup truck, which was parked along the side of the roadway. Marso was knocked to the ground by the fiery explosion but only suffered minor injuries.
Smolinski and Blake however, were killed instantly as a result of “multiple fractures sustained in the crash”. A subsequent Safety Board examination of the wreckage determined that a bad weld had resulted in the right wing strut attachment failing where it met the body panel of the Pinto. As a result of the crash, the Mizar project was shelved and Advanced Vehicle Engineers shut down.
Check out the historic photos of the AVE Mizar “Flying Pinto” below.
Below is an early promotional video for the AVE Mizar “Flying Pinto”.