For many of us, our earliest memory of a flying car is Saturday morning watching cartoons in front of the TV. Wanting to produce something opposite to the Flintstones, who lived in a comic version of the Stone Age, Hanna Barbara imagined the Jetsons, a family living in the future with robot servants and flying cars.
Although they may not have been influenced by George Jetson’s flying car, two graduates of the Northrop Institute of Technology’s School of Aeronautical Engineering, Henry Smolinski and Hal Blake, set out to build a flying car. When they said flying car, it was a car that you could drive to the airport by the highway. Once at the airport, the wings could be attached with the fin and a motor. All of the aircraft‘s control surfaces were operated from inside the car. This allowed him to take flight and fly like an airplane.
A Ford Pinto has been selected for the Mizar
Starting a company in Van Nuys, California in 1971 called “Advanced Vehicle Engineers (AVE)”, the duo set out to build a car/plane. The car selected for the project was the Ford Pinto hatchback subcompact. When the car was first introduced, it was hugely popular due to its price tag and its peppy engine taken from the European Ford Escort. Few knew then that Pinto’s rear fuel tank had a design flaw that would prove responsible for several fatal accidents. If the two engineers had known, they might have chosen a different car.
The airframe was from a Cessna Skymaster
Now, with a car selected, the next step was to pair it with an airplane. For the plane, they chose a Cessna Skymaster twin-boom twin-engine. The idea was to use only the aircraft’s rear propeller to propel a vehicle they called the “AVE Mizar”. In case you didn’t know, Mizar is a star up the sleeve of the Big Dipper.
While the airframe taken from the Cessna was used for the two Mizar prototypes, the plan was to later contract out the construction of the Mizar airframe. In 1973, AVE began a series of taxi trials at Van Nuys Airport and held flight trials at Naval Air Station Point Mugu, California. At the time, AVE said Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification flights would begin soon.
The plan was to use both the cars and the plane’s engine for takeoff, and once airborne the car’s engine could be turned off. With brakes on all four wheels, the Mizar could stop in less than 525 feet. The cell parts would then be unbolted and the car could drive off normally.
The Mizar wasn’t going to be cheap
With production slated to begin in 1974, the initial selling price was set at between $18,300 and $29,000, depending on the model. At today’s prices, that would equate to $98,000 to $150,000, which is by no means cheap.
Although the lightweight Pinto is perfectly suited for a flying car, overall when the airframe was added it was far too heavy. With its main test pilot unavailable on September 11, 1973, Henry Smolinski decided to test it with his business partner Harold Blake. During the flight, something went wrong and the plane hit a tree before crashing into a van. Smolinski and Blake died instantly.
The fatal accident marked the end of AVE and Mizar.
It was a shame the Mizar project didn’t last a bit longer, as the duo convinced Eon Productions to feature the car in their 1974 James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun.