From the archives: Convair’s flying car took off over San Diego 75 years ago

From the archives: Convair's flying car took off over San Diego 75 years ago
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Consolidated Vultee Aircraft (Convair) tested a flying car here 75 years ago.

The experimental dual-purpose ConvAirCar was designed by Theodore Hall. The machine combined a rear-engined four-passenger automobile with a removable wing and a 190 horsepower Lycoming aero engine.

The prototype first flew on November 15, 1947.

On November 18, the experiment came to an abrupt halt when the vehicle crashed in Chula Vista. He had run out of gas.

Neither the test pilot nor his passenger were seriously injured in the crash, but the fiberglass bodywork was destroyed. The prototype was rebuilt – and flew again – but it never went into mass production. The original flying car was on display at the San Diego Aerospace Museum, where it was destroyed by fire in 1978.

From the San Diego Union, Sunday, November 16, 1947:


The passable plane flies for more than an hour; The craft has a removable wing, two engines

An automobile flew over San Diego yesterday for an hour and 18 minutes. This was the Vultee Aircraft Corp consolidated experimental model. known as road plane and flying automobile. Test pilot Reuben P. Snodgrass took the four-passenger car into the air from Lindbergh Field for its first test flight and brought it back for a perfect four-point landing.
But while this was the first time most San Diegan residents had seen an automobile fly, there’s nothing particularly new about airplanes designed for road travel.


In fact, the ancestor of the current experimental model dates back about five years when Convair employee TP Hall made the first one in his spare time. Later he interested the company in the idea and since the war Convair engineers have been experimenting with it. Four-wheeled planes were frequently seen flying over San Diego.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the current model is its appearance. The automotive part of the craft actually looks like a modern automobile. He was driven through the streets of San Diego without attracting attention.


It shows that Convair is thinking about the aircraft based on the market. Its engineers are trying to design something that will be accepted by the public in large doses. According to William A. Blees, vice president of sales, the self-flying is at least two years away from the stage where it will be necessary to worry about the production lines.

Much of the thinking in the aviation industry holds that the private plane will never become a popular mode of transportation until it can be used as an automobile.


Today, private planes are mostly toys. Due to the remoteness of the airports and the vagaries of the weather, it is almost impossible for a private pilot to go where he wants and when he wants.

Engineers have sought to address this drawback in several ways. One is the helicopter which can be dropped in small areas. Another is the plane that folds its wings and runs along the road.

Convair’s interim answer is a two-piece vehicle that can be attached to an aircraft. The airplane part is complete with wings, control surfaces, controls and engine. It only lacks seats and landing gear which are provided by the automobile. Both parts are clamped at shaft points and can be assembled or disassembled in minutes.

The benefits claimed for this solution to the problem of making an aircraft useful are the removal of clutter when the aircraft becomes routable and the ability to keep flying parts maintained at the level of aircraft perfection. It is claimed that two engines are required because few owners would service an automobile engine and an aircraft engine must be serviced for safety reasons.


One suggestion that has been discussed is to sell the automotive part of the craft to the consumer and lease the flying part to them. These flying parts would be interchangeable. An owner could drive to Lindbergh Field, rent a wing for a trip to San Francisco. If fog were to intercept it, it could land en route, say in Santa Barbara, and continue on the highway. If the weather cleared up when he wanted to return, he could rent another wing in San Francisco and fly home.


No one is claiming that the flying automobile will soon enter production. To be successful, it must be adequate enough to attract a market the size of an automobile. Otherwise, it could not be produced at a price low enough to be feasible. San Diegans, familiar with the amount of trial and error that goes into the production of any aircraft, will appreciate the nearly endless research it will take to weed out all the bugs of various sizes from a project as complex as this- this.

California Daily Newspapers

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