Retrotechtacular: On The Wings Of Goodyear

At the opposite end of the spectrum from the various blimp and rigid-hull airships Goodyear has created over the years stands the Goodyear Inflatoplane, the company’s foray into experimental inflatable aircraft. Goodyear had recently created a rubberized nylon material they called Airmat, the faces of which were connected internally by nylon threads. This material was originally developed during research into the viability of emergency airplane wings.

The United States military became interested in the Inflatoplane after Goodyear had performed successful testing of demonstration model GA-33. They believed that the Inflatoplane could be dropped from the air in a rigid container to facilitate an emergency rescue, or trucked around with the rest of the cargo as a last resort for just exactly the right situation. It seems like a good idea on paper. The Inflatoplane could stay packed into a fairly small container until it was needed. The GA-468 one-seater model could go almost 400 miles on 20 gallons of fuel, and required less pressure to inflate than the average car tire.

This episode of the Discovery Channel series WINGS includes a real-time demonstration of taking an Inflatoplane from crate to air set to late ’80s montage music. It takes the pilot a full five minutes to unfurl and  the plane, and he does it on a nice and level grassy spot by a lake that looks more like a cozy picnic spot than threatening enemy territory. While it’s better than not having an inflatable emergency aircraft, it just isn’t that practical.

Goodyear had all kinds of plans for future improvements, such as a vertical takeoff model and a rocket-powered version. But the Inflatoplane military initiative was grounded around the time that someone speaking for the Army deadpanned that they “could not find a valid military use for an aircraft that could be taken down by a well-aimed bow and arrow.”

Bonus video: wind tunnel testing at Langley


Retrotechtacular is a weekly column featuring hacks, technology, and kitsch from ages of yore. Help keep it fresh by sending in your ideas for future installments.

34 thoughts on “Retrotechtacular: On The Wings Of Goodyear

    1. Not many and not large, because you need to add the same volume as what is escaping continuously.

      It other words, the largest hole you can have can only be as large as the compressor outlet, or air will get out faster than it gets in.

      1. That’s not how it works at all. Gasses can be compressed so the compressor outlet size is only one variable. The pressure can be higher and thus a large volume can pass through a small hole.

      1. The problem being that the entire wing needs to be pressurized. If a segment loses pressure that part of the wing will buckle. If you can be creative enough to keep the ENTIRE object rigid then you may be on to something.

      1. Problem is that the green stuff is a liquid, so it’d only fill in holes directly under where it is pooling, unless the pilot is tipping the plane back and forth, to slosh the goo evenly around the underside of the wing. Even then, it wouldn’t work on the top surface of the wing. You might be able to pull it off, if the wing material contained numerous cells which would each have their own little supply of goo.

    2. I did some research a few months ago on this plane and if I remember well, it could fly with a presure as low as 1,12x the exterior.
      It could be taken down with a well aimed bow and arrow, aiming at the pilot.

  1. I can imagine one good use for this. Submarine use. The Japanese had to design a special sub for carrying 3 rigid structure aircraft and the germans had special roter kites for spotting enemy ships. An inflatable aircraft that could carry a payload and be launched from a sub… well now, that solves quite a lot of logistic problems. A little late design to be used by either parties, but there is certainly a use for such a plane and requires little storage.

    1. If you filled it with enough helium to reduce weight (you need not make it buoyant) you could create a very low speed, STOL aircraft for rescue work, nature photography, etc.

  2. I always wondered if this material was the inspiration for the original Therm-A-Rest inflatable mattress, which had a similar fibrous core. (modern Therm-a-rests have a different, laminae-kind-of construction)

  3. I always wondered if this material was the inspiration for the original Therm-A-Rest inflatable mattress, which had a similar fibrous core. (modern Therm-a-rests have a different, laminae-kind-of construction)

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