Automotive History: The Pinto’s Brief Life As An Airplane

One of the most recurring human follies is the seemingly endless attempts to cross the car with an airplane. Why? The two have such profoundly different purposes and requirements, and there’s so little that they actually share. Can’t dreamy-eyed engineers get past the idea that a passenger cabin and a set of wheels is not really enough to share effectively. Perhaps the most amusing looking but tragic examples is the AVE Mizar, an ill-fated (did I give too much away?) attempt to make the Pinto airborne. Maybe a trebuchet would have been much easier.

The Mizar was conceived of and cobbled together between the years 1971 and 1973 by a former Henry Smolinski, a Northrop-trained engineer. His brilliant idea was to combine the rear section of a Cessna Skymaster,

which was a very innovative design using two engines in the same thrust line, one in the front and one in the back.  By cutting away (the very light aluminum) front section of the Skymaster, Smolinski envisioned replacing it with the not-so-light Pinto.

The rear Skymaster engine was retained, and it was intended to be the sole power plant during cruise. But for take-off and climb, the Pinto’s engine was also called on. Exactly how that was accomplished has been lost in the mists of time. Update: apparently the Skymaster’s original 220 hp rear engine was replaced by a 300hp engine to compensate somewhat for the loss of the front engine, as well as the Pinto’s considerable weight.

And of course, upon landing again, the Pinto would be quickly unbolted and driven away, although with a very heavily burdened dashboard, if that clipping picture above makes all to obvious.

It really did fly, but only a couple of times. In a test flight on September 11, 1973, the right wing strut detached, or the wing just folded, based on varying eyewitness accounts. Smolinski and pilot Harold Blake were killed upon the Pinto’s fiery crash. The flying Pinto’s weight was considerably above what the Skymaster’s gross maximum certified take-off weight.  One observer reported that the wing struts were attached to the car with sheet-metal screws and that “…everything was really bad.”(wiki). The NTSB report of the crash also identified bad welds, along with a bad attachment of the right wing. People have blamed the Pinto for fiery crashes, but they can’t stick this on on it.

Update: here’s a promotional video of the Mizar, with some shots of it “airborne”; taxiing tests, apparently.