The HZ-1 Aerocycle Wasn’t the Army’s Brightest Idea
Many of humanity’s greatest advancements have come from our tireless search for better ways to kill each other. Examples include multistage rockets, atomic energy, and GPS navigation. Then again, some warlike inventions have produced little more than snickers and odd looks. Take for example the HZ-1 Aerocycle. Intended as a groundbreaking transport device, it instead became one of the great boondoggles of military history. The HZ-1’s developers reasoned that small personal helicopters could serve a vital role in reconnaissance missions. To that end, they built a small, one-man takeoff and landing platform. It was driven by a pair of 15 foot rotors powered by a 40 hp Mercury Marine engine. To cushion what could otherwise be a rough touchdown, they added air bags at the end of four equally-spaced landing legs. Aside from its pilot, the unit could carry up 120 pounds of cargo. Its maximum range was 15 miles, though this could be extended to as far as 50 miles with an auxiliary gas can. Cruising speed was 55 miles an hour with a top speed of 75 mph. It included a twist-grip, handle-mounted throttle. Watch: RELATED: The AeroMobil 3.0 Could Be the World's First Flying Car
The HZ-1 was designed so that its users would require only minimal training. Or at least that was the sales pitch used by its proponents, who claimed that operators would need only 20 minutes of instruction. Their idea was that pilots would steer the device using the same motions as a person riding a bicycle or a surfboard.
Formal evaluation of the HZ-1 began in November 1954 at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. Early results were deemed promising enough to warrant continued testing. Military commanders transferred the project to Fort Eustis in Virginia, putting Captain Selmer Sunby in charge of further development.
Sunby, who was known for having great amounts of common sense, quickly realized that the HZ-1 wasn’t exactly the greatest thing since sliced bread. The rotors, which spun in opposing directions, had a bad habit of colliding with each other during flight. The fast-spinning blades also kicked up dust and rocks, sending flying shrapnel in the direction of anyone nearby. As if that weren’t reason enough to abandon the project, the slightest miscalculation during flight could send the entire contraption crashing to the ground.
Despite these problems, Captain Sunby continued the project, hoping to find a practical use for the device. He conducted both tethered and free-range test flights. In both cases disaster was the result.
RELATED: The Army's (Failed) Quest For A Flying Jeep
Finally, engineers at the Langley Research Center subjected the HZ-1 to wind tunnel tests, which quickly proved its inherent instability. With heavy hearts, the project’s proponents were forced to remove funding.
Fortunately, Captain Sunby survived his encounter with the HZ-1. He went on to test other, more successful aircraft during his career, and earned promotion to the rank of colonel before retiring from service to his country.
As for the HZ-1, a single example of this less-than-brilliant invention survives to this day. You can see it for yourself if you’re ever at the US Army Transportation Museum in Newport News.
Side note: the HZ-1’s inventors also created a device known as the Ultra-Fast Opening Personnel Parachute. They claimed it could successfully deploy in spaces as low as 25 feet from the ground. Did it work? I’ll let you answer that question.
RELATED: Check Out Photos of the 1940 Jeep Willys Quad
Click Here to Read the Original Article on BoldRide