When Ford Pintos Fly: The Bizarre Story of Henry Smolinski and His Flying Ford
People give their lives for many reasons. Some die for their country, others for their faith. Every so often, however, we hear of people who give their lives for less noble ideals. Take Henry Smolinski for example. He died while trying to make his dream of a flying Ford Pinto come true. Smolinski was born in 1933. He attended the Northrup Institute of Technology, where he studied aeronautical engineering. Afterwards he worked at North American aviation as a structural engineer, where he helped to develop new jet aircraft designs. In 1959 he accepted a position at Rocketdyne, where he pioneered work in the firm’s missile and aerospace programs. Smolinski might have gone on to enjoy a noted career and a happy retirement, had he not developed an interest in building the world’s first flying car. To that end, he founded a company called Advanced Vehicle Engineers in Van Nuys, California in 1971. Smolinski, along with a friend named Hal Blake, wanted to build sturdy, lightweight airframes that drivers could bolt to their cars. He imagined motorists flying the automobile/airplane combos to a distant airfield, unbolting the wings and propeller, and completing their journey by car. RELATED: Check Out the Modern Terrafugia Flying Car
By itself, this ambition seems not only sane but admirable. After all, who doesn’t want a vehicle that can traverse both highways and airways? Many inventors have dreamt of building such a machine. So we can’t fault Smolinski for wanting to achieve this goal.
We can, however, question the way in which they went about it. For starters, the automobile he chose for his prototype was the Ford Pinto, known more for its explosive qualities than for its mechanical quality. For the aeronautical portion of the vehicle, Blake and Smolinski disassembled a Cessna Skymaster, removing the front engine and cabin and bolting the rest of the assembly to the Pinto.
To control the plane while in flight, the duo developed a set of adapters that would allow the driver/pilot to control the ailerons by turning the steering wheel, while using the pedals to control the rudder. They modified the Pinto’s dashboard, giving it an airspeed gauge, a directional gyroscope, a radio navigational equipment, and an altimeter.
The idea of a flying Pinto was fodder for newspapers of the time, giving Smolinski ample opportunities for press conferences. At one such meeting, a group of skeptical engineers posed some concerns about the project’s viability. Smolinski reportedly responded by saying, “Look, we know there are problems with our idea. But we’re confident we have the answers.” He chose to name his unlikely craft the Mizar, after a star in the Big Dipper.
RELATED: This Turbocharged Ford Pinto Race Car is All Kinds of Cool
In 1973 the Mizar, piloted by Charles “Red” Jennise, took off from a California airfield. At first all went well. Then the mounting struts for the right wing failed. Jennise realized that turning stresses would probably destroy the craft were he to turn it around. So he reduced power while flying straight ahead, landing unhurt in a field of beans several miles away. Unable to remove the Cessna attachments, he drove the vehicle, wings and all, back to the airport.
Blake and Smolinski went back to the drawing board, and by September 1973 they were ready to test a modified version of the Mizar. On the 11th of that month the pair took off from Ventura County Airport; Jennise was unavailable to pilot the craft on that day.
Mac Grisham, the airport manager, was alarmed to see the vehicle take off without his prior approval. He ran to the control tower to radio Blake and Smolinski. Before he could reach his destination, however, he heard the airfield’s crash horn go off. He turned to see a pillar of black smoke rising from the spot where the Mizar should’ve been. Emergency responders raced to the scene of the accident, where they found what was left of Blake and Smolinski.
Later investigation revealed that the Mizar suffered from faulty welding and loose parts. Also, its combined weight was well over recommended safety limits for the Cessna engine that was used. Smolinski’s death ended his dream of an airborne Pinto, and the Mizar took its place in the annals of oddball aviation history.
RELATED: See Photos of the 1990 Sky Commuter Concept
Photo Credit: Doug Duncan
Click Here to Read the Original Article on BoldRide