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Aerocar (Sweeney)


When American Robert E. Fulton built his 'Airphibian' flying car, the concept so impressed fellow countryman Moulton 'Molt' Taylor, that he designed and built a flying car of his own. But whereas the Airphibian left a fully assembled fuselage and wing assembly behind, Molt Taylor's design was a fuselage with folding wings that took up a minimum of space when 'parked' or could be towed behind the car to the nearest airport when required for use. He called it the AEROCAR. The AEROCAR never made quantity production, but five Mk I's were built. One of them was damaged in an accident and was bought back by Molt Taylor to be rebuilt as the only Mk III. All five still exist and are in America, either in private hands or in museum's, but only one is still airworthy at this time.

From the start, Taylor realised that the troublesome part of the design would be the road going component. His car looked more like a proper car than Fulton's, but that is where the problem lay. American automobile manufacturers regularly updated their styling trends and the strict American safety laws added features that increased the weight. Both could make the project impractical. Taylor gave more thought to this and reasoned that if he used an existing production car, then those problems would be dealt with automatically by the manufacturer and his only concern would be the flying component which he was fully conversant with. His company already had several successful aircraft 'kits' on offer at that time. With this in mind, Taylor had started the design of AEROCAR Model IV. But tragically, he died in 1995 of a massive stroke, his third, at the age of 82, with the Model IV still at the design stage. But a friend of Molt Taylor, American Ed Sweeney, could see the potential behind the use of a production car and took up the idea. Taylor had allowed Ed Sweeney to fly model aircraft on the grass landing strip adjacent to the AEROCAR factory in earlier years and had also let him take the wheel of one of the AEROCAR Model I's during an afternoon flight. Impressed by the experience, Sweeney bought a Model I AEROCAR in 1988 (Registration N102D) that had once been owned by actor and film star Robert Cummings in the 1960's. This is the only AEROCAR flying today.

In 1996, Sweeney founded AEROCAR Llc and continued with the flying car concept. He has called his new, self-funded project the AEROCAR 2000 and the prototype is being built by Sweeney in Black Forest, Colorado. His choice for the base car is the mass produced, English designed, Lotus Elise, a mid-engined 2 seat sports convertible that is very strong and very light due to the extensive use of aluminium and it's fibreglass body. The availability of spare parts through the dealer network in America is strongly in it's favour. It is proposed that a three cylinder engine and gearbox from a Chevrolet Sprint is likely to be fitted. Naturally, another desirable feature is that the car will automatically be upgraded by Lotus to meet any amendments that the American government bestow on the motoring market in the future. The car will remain as close to standard as possible.

Unlike the earlier AEROCARs, the flying component of the AEROCAR 2000 will be fully self-contained, having it's own power unit - a twin turbocharged 2.5 litre V8 engine, as used in the Lotus Elite. With the two parts assembled for flight, the engine will be mounted centrally above the cockpit of the car and a three blade electric, constant speed propeller will be fitted to the front of the engine as on normal aircraft. The engine is liquid cooled, sharing the same cooling system as the car and heating or internal defrosting is made possible by the same source. The control system of the car will remain 'as built' and will be independent of the flight component. Flight control is via two separate systems. Firstly, electronically operated servo's that operate the essential moving flight necessities, rudder, ailerons etc. and secondly, by means of an overhead control stick that operates the same moving parts mechanically. The car's steering wheel will steer the front wheels and is linked to the rudder for steering when in flight. An electrical servo connection from the car's accelerator is linked to the engine of the flight component. The car's instrument panel will have an Italian made flat screen LCD with two data displays, one for the car and one for flying information. One retained feature of the original flying cars are the folding wings allowing only a minimum of floor space to be used when not in use. This can be towed behind the car to the next airfield when required. To transfer from road going car to aircraft requires the car to be reversed to the flying component, when two initial connections have to be made before the assembly is pulled into position. These connect the engine cooling system etc. Two more connections have to be made before the wing struts are attached and the whole operation can be completed in seconds rather than minutes as on the original AEROCAR's. By altering the shape of the intermediate section between flying module and car, a variety of vehicles can be used and changes could be made to the D.I.Y. kits at the construction stage. It is also envisaged that potential fliers with lack of storage space could rent a flying component from an airfield in future years.

The flying car could become a reality in the not too distant future. Let's hope that the flying motorist will use more common sense in the air than many motorists do on the road today!

Source: Reg J. Prosser

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