Henry Smolinski And The Flying Pinto

Anyone who has ever been stuck in gridlock has probably daydreamed about pushing a button on the dashboard that turns their car into a plane. Imagine how much more relaxing a weekend getaway would be if you could take to the open sky instead hitting the congested highway. For as long as there have been aircraft and automobiles, man has tried to combine the two. The proper term for this marriage is ‘roadable aircraft’, and a successful one requires attention to the aerodynamics of flight as well as the rigors of motoring.

One promising attempt at a roadable aircraft came from Henry Smolinski, an aeronautical engineer in Van Nuys, California. He along with his friend Harold Blake started a company in 1971 called Advanced Vehicle Engineers (AVE) to produce the AVE Mizar. This flying car combined the lightweight Ford Pinto with the wings and partial fuselage of a Cessna Skymaster.

Ideas Take Flight

Fulton's Airphibian. Image from Roadable Times
Fulton’s Airphibian. Image from Roadable Times

The first roadable aircraft patent in the United States was granted in 1918 to Felix Longobardi. His flying car featured retractable wings and even had propellers for use on water. But like a lot of roadable aircraft designs, it never left the drawing board, much less got off the ground. A few of the Mizar’s predecessors were built and found moderate success.

One of these was Robert E. Fulton’s Airphibian, which he unveiled in the late 1940s and featured a quick-release fuselage and wing combination with retractable support struts. Fulton made several prototypes and took one of them on a 100,000 mile tour of the United States. A later Airphibian model became the first roadable aircraft to be certified by the Civil Aeronautics Administration.

Easy conversion between aircraft and automobile was also an important design consideration for Smolinski and Blake’s AVE Mizar; the Pinto could be backed up to the Skymaster air frame and linked with self-aligning connections in a matter of minutes. The Pinto had a greatly modified cockpit in order to handle all the instrumentation needed for driving and flying. Rudder pedals stowed compactly under the dash, and the steering wheel was easily changed into a yoke.

The modified Pinto cockpit. Image from Cookie Boy's Toys
The modified Pinto cockpit. Image from Cookie Boy’s Toys

The Mizar used both the Pinto’s engine and a Lycoming aircraft engine to take off, which shortened the takeoff distance required. Once airborne, the Pinto’s engine was turned off. With a 12,000 ft. flight ceiling and 1,000-mile cruise range at speeds averaging 150 mph/241 kph, the Mizar looked good on paper.

See Your Ford Dealer for Details

In 1973, things were going well for Smolinski and AVE. They began FAA certification flights mid-year and partnered with California powerhouse automobile dealer Galpin Ford for national distribution. That name may ring a bell—their custom arm called Galpin Auto Sports is the garage used on Pimp My Ride. Galpin Ford has a long history with custom and oddball vehicles. They popularized the sunroof, pioneered the 1970s conversion van, and kicked off the 4×4 craze with their “Galpinized” vehicles.

Galpin Ford had a Mizar prototype on display and even made a promotional video for it, which we’ve embedded below. A Mizar was slated to appear as the getaway vehicle for villain Francisco Scaramanga’s in the 1974 James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun.

After a test flight in late August 1973, pilot Charles Janisse reported that the right wing’s strut attachment disconnected, leaving the wing unsupported and the flying car incapable of turning without serious issues. Smolinski and Blake fixed the strut and took it out again a couple of weeks later. The support failed again when Smolinski tried to make a turn. The right wing crumpled and the Mizar crashed, killing both of its inventors.

Driving the Future of Roadable Aircraft

The Terrafugia TF-X flying car. Image from Terrafugia
The Terrafugia TF-X flying car. Image from Terrafugia

To this day, attempts at designing a balanced roadable aircraft continue. A company called Terrafugia started by several MIT grads is working on two different models. The Transition resembles Fulton’s Airphibian as far as the automobile styling goes, but the wings fold up rather than detaching. Terrafugia’s other model, the TF-X, looks like a Fifth Element car with propellers. The TF-X is more of a forward-looking vehicle that’s designed for vertical take-off and landing. Here’s to the future.


33 thoughts on “Henry Smolinski And The Flying Pinto

  1. Roadable aircraft are one of those ideas that look good initially but never seem to work out well when implemented. When they are built, they are burdened by so many compromises that in the end they rarely either job all that well.

    1. One of the earlier design’s was a car-plane called the Taylor Aerocar and was used in an early sitcom called The Bob Cumming’s show. I think it was early 60’s He would drive up in a park and swing the wing’s out from the fuselage which was towed behind the car and then take off. Bob Cumming’s was one of the first few certificated Flight instructor’s back in the day when government started issuing Pilot license’s. It never caught on and only 5 were built and only ONE is still fling, It had an airspeed of 80kts. Strange the info we keep in our memory bank’s.
      My Dad was a pilot and I followed in his footstep’s. I wish I knew as much about Electronic’ as I do about Aircraft but I’m learning and this is one of the best places to learn…

      1. The Aerocar neatly illustrates the other major problem with this vehicle type: no market. Taylor had reached a deal with Vought for production but they wouldn’t tool up unless they had at least 500 orders. All they got was half that number and that was the end. Keep in mind that this was in the late Fifties when civil aviation was starting a huge growth phase and lots of manufacturers had light aircraft offerings.

        1. You must be an old guy ! Like me I was 11 in 1961 when THE NEW BOB CUMMIGS SHOW was on , I think that was the year?
          I found a Youtube video with the show. Search for Aerocar it should come up with him flying the aerocar. The good old days

    1. True… but this wouldn’t be something you gift to a 12-yr old, or fly around drunkenly (hopefully) without any prior experience.
      You can’t just buy a cessna and fly anyway… getting a pilot’s license is tough work.

  2. It’s a great idea, but as long as you need runways, you may as well build airports and hangars there. Still VTOL would fix that, maybe the helicopter is what they should be aiming for, though they’re more complicated than a plane. Tilting wings is another way, but that’s a bit complex for the pilot. Computer controls should help that. But even then it’s gonna be the business of qualified pilots, let ordinary drivers up there and it’d be raining flaming nuggets of aluminium over the cities.

    1. A flyable off-road vehicle makes marginally more sense than a roadable aircraft especially this dunebuggy-with-a-parawing design. I can see this having some utility in places like the Australian Outback. or the African Veldt and Savannah.

  3. i kind of think the whole flying car thing is going about it the wrong way. if you can fly why even bother with roads? what you really want is a personal vtol. one with semi-autonomous controls that make flying easy for anyone.

    make it so the driver only has to control heading speed and altitude, the flight computer does the hard job of operating control surfaces and throttling motors. the system might enforce operating rules too, locking you into legal airspace and flight ceilings. throw in smart pads, which provide markers allowing for autonomous take off and landing at a prepared area. you might start seeing smart pads show up in parking lots, eventually you will need some kind of autonomous atc as the number of personal vtols increases. automated landing might be mandatory in large landing areas.

    then once you have the machine go about getting the faa to come up with a semi-autonomous aircraft operators license. automatic landing would be mandatory in high traffic areas, but manual landing would be allowed at home pads or secluded locations (and possibly require a rating).

    1. The thing is that you CAN have a personal VTOL, even TODAY!
      (they’re called helicopters)
      The nicer ones even have autopilot, so making it semi-autonomous would “only” require more computers and sensors…

  4. What gets me is after the first time the wing strut failed they didn’t completely redesign that part? Such and so part broke, so make it stronger. Build a stress test rig to vibrate and yank on the new strut design until it fails, then redesign it again so it can withstand that test.

    Seems like Smolinski and Blake were a pair of wannabe Wright Brothers, without the meticulous care and testing they put into their airplane designs.

    1. They flying Matador was a model instead of the full size real Mizar they were going to use. Things worked out when they got AMC to provide a lot of the vehicles, a Hornet was used for the spiral bridge jump.

    To whom may want to help solve the crime. It is our strong belief that Henry A. Smolinski was kidnapped or murdered. Lets look at the details surrounding the day before, during, and after the crash.
    1. Henry and a coworker flew the night before the crash and everything was fine with the new engine.
    2. The morning before the crash Henry personally hands an insurance policy to Bert Boeckmann (President and owner of Galpin Ford Motor Company)
    3. Henry picks up Hal Blake and flys into Oxnard Airport between 1:30pm- 3:30pm and puts gas into flying car.
    4. A different coworker witnessed Henry and Hal get into the flying car, then the coworker walks back to the hanger to turn on his ham radio.
    5. Airport manager was waving his hands and trying to flag down the pilot of the flying car to stop, since he had not gotten permission from emergency crew and control tower.
    6. Henry was a responsible and safe pilot , and had always contacted the emergency crew and control tower prior to any high speed taxi tests or flying except on this day.
    7. NSTB reported crash at 1605 hours (4:05pm) Coworker witnessed the crash at 4:05pm Coroners Official Reports states crash occurred at 5:04pm and Coroners arrives at 5:40pm
    8. The painter of the flying car stated on the Coroners Report that he had just flew in the flying car, got out and Hal Blake got in and a few minutes later it crashed. He stated he noticed engine trouble .
    9. Fully staffed 4 control tower personal did not see this flight with the painter. Coworker with ham radio never saw the flight with the painter.
    10. Police reports states a farmworker was parked in a field when flying car crashed into his truck, Coroners report states farmworker was driving when flying car crashed into his truck. Air Traffic Control Tower personal witnessed with high powered binoculars the flying car hit the dirt field, and saw no truck. The coworker with ham radio drove over after the crash and saw no truck.
    11. No personal family member identified Henry or Hal . They were told that was nothing left of them to identify and that they were smart and threw their wallets out for identification before the crash. (Control personal tower states there was not enough time to throw a wallet out the window)
    12. Both victims were identified by items strewn from the crash. Henry had a birth certificate, a checkbook that was closed 4 years prior, drivers licence was missing and whole set of keys were missing. Hal had a brown briefcase that was empty and his house keys .
    13. Coroner Merle Peters has been inditted for falsifying coroners report. Coroner never did any body scans or xrays or dental records on Henry or Hal. They were both burn victims and were burned beyond recognition. Standard procedure was to do dental records and body scans or xrays for closure for the families of burn victims.
    14. FBI Investigator believes 99% sure he was kidnapped.
    15. Witnesses at crash sight stated their was an explosion in air and never addressed by FAA or NSTB
    16. FAA said crash was being investigated for days with a fine toothcomb. However a winess states it sat at Chucks towing for days on a pallet like a junk heap.
    17. FAA never addresses the fact the engine was a 300hp not a 210hp like they stated on the report. Could not tell the difference between 210hp and 300hp engine.
    18. Henry’s briefcase was left in the truck that belonged to Bert Boeckmann. It was never returned to the family.
    19. A Deputy Coroner believes it is an insurance fraud case. We have no positive proof Henry is dead. The only way would be to exume the body and do a DNA testing.
    20. Anyone who wants to help us help this family. Email me
    Dead or Alive we dont know?

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