February 28, 2014 (Scottsdale, AZ)
Ever since man took to the skies with powered flight there have been some pretty strange designs for aircraft. Some actually flew and were developed, but many were just flashes in the pan. There are so many interesting designs that it’s really too hard to list them all, so we’ve narrowed it down to our top three favorites.
We will start with number three. We really like a plane called the V-173, affectionately named the Flying Pancake. In the 1930s an aeronautical engineer by the name of Charles Zimmerman came up with this interesting flat design. The flat, disc-like shape resembled a pancake. It had two piston engines and held one pilot and was capable of near vertical take-off. The first flight of the Flying Pancake took place on November 23, 1942, and was piloted by test pilot, Boone Guyton. The design seemed promising and it made 190 test flights. People that lived in the area where the test flights were being made reported seeing a strange “flying saucer” in the sky. Notably, Charles Lindbergh got a chance to fly the V-173 and thought it handled well. However, it never made it into production and it was retired on March 23, 1947.
Speaking of flying saucers, number two on our list looks just like one. Avro Canada VZ-9 Avrocar was a U.S. Air Force top secret project that was developed in 1958, during the start of the cold war by Avro Aircraft of Canada. This metallic disc-shaped aircraft had a huge turbo fan or “turborotor” at its center that was supposed to create lift. The plan was to make the Avrocar into a high speed, high altitude fighter type of aircraft. After testing, the Avrocar proved to be unstable and have thrust problems. The project was cancelled in 1961. Still, it was pretty cool looking.
We left the best for last. Our number one strange design goes to the HZ1 Aerocycle. This crazy one-man helicopter is by far the oddest design in our opinion. The Aerocycle was designed by de Lackner helicopters in the early 1950s for the U.S. Army. The idea was someone could learn to fly it with only 20 minutes of instruction and it could be flown by a lone infantryman in the battlefield to perform reconnaissance. (It could be described as a death trap!) Basically, the pilot is standing over rotating blades inches from him. It was controlled by the pilot leaning in the direction he wished to go. After two crashes the Aerocycle was deemed too difficult to control and the project was scrubbed. I bet the test pilots were happy that day.
Aircraft design and flight testing have come a long way. Today there are modern designs and ideas these early pioneers could never have conceived of, but we honor their creativity and ingenuity to help get us to where we are today with modern flight.