(Since this was first posted on 2/27/2011, this article has attracted comments from individuals who were associated and affected by the unfortunate end to this undertaking, including the designer’s daughter. My somewhat light-hearted take on the Mizar was not intended to belittle the tragic consequences)
One of the most recurring human follies are 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 example is the AVE Mizar, an ill-fated 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 going to be called on. Exactly how that was to be accomplished has been lost in the mists of time. Apparently that was never really figured out, as 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. From the looks of the picture showing the engine attached to the rear of the Pinto, the weight hanging out in the back looks like it’s overwhelming the rear suspension.
And of course, upon landing again, the Pinto would be quickly unbolted and driven away, although with a very heavily burdened dashboard, as that clipping picture above makes all to obvious.
It really did fly, but only very briefly for 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 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.” (source: Wikipedia). 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 one on it.
The previous video embedded here is no longer available, but this German one has the best footage available currently on YouTube. There’s no video of the crash.
The Mizar was by no means the first “flying car”. Numerous attempts were made, starting back in the 1920s. The 1947 Convaircar shows some similarities to the Pinto, except that the “car” was built very light weight, out of fiberglass, and powered by the equally light-weight Crosley “COBRA” engine. It also looked a bit better balanced than the tail-heavy Mizar. It too crashed, killing its pilot.
“Flying cars” continue to attract considerable development money, and some of the recent examples are leaps and bounds ahead of the Mizar. But whether they will ever effectively overcome the inherent compromises involved, both technically, financially, and operationally, is a very big and still unanswered question.
Honestly, as a James Bond fan, I’m amazed that this ill-fated flight took place the same year that the film “The Man With the Golden Gun” was released. I would have expected one to somehow influence the other. That flying AMC Matador was the first thing I thought of when I saw this post.
The Matador never flew on its own, it’the beauty of make believe. And I guess the Pinto was substituted for the Matador because AMC was a big sponsor of the film. Though, it was probably the case that the filmmakers were inspired by the Pinto project, and hadn’t it been for AMC, it would most likely been a Pinto in the film.
I always thought it hilarious that Bangkok would have an AMC dealer in 1974, and that the cops were driving Ambassadors. Cars were extremely uncommon in that country then, and what ones that did exist there certainly weren’t AMC products
The story goes that the AMC involvement with The Man With The Golden Gun was a result of the filmmakers’ desire to include the Astro-Spiral Jump, which is the barrel-roll jump that Bond’s car makes over the river. This was a stunt that was being performed in AMC-sponsored stunt shows, using Javelins, but that the calculations required for the stunt had also been figured out for a Hornet X. To use any other car would have required re-calculating from scratch, so the filmmakers had to work the script to put James Bond in an AMC Hornet, leading to AMC involvement, and probably the only all-AMC car chase in film history.
And it is crazy how much this flying Pinto looks like the jet-powered Matador from that movie.
Astro-Spiral Jump calculations were done by Bill Milliken – story here (starts in 5th paragraph): http://www.bentleypublishers.com/ludvigsen/aq-milliken-biography.htm. Worth reading the whole article, though. The airplane he built as a teenager, out of canoe wood and motorcycle parts, is at the Owls Head Transportation Museum (owlshead.org). They also have a sailing glider that’s equally as bizarre as the flying cars: http://owlshead.org/collections/detail/1930-domenjos-glider-original.
That is exactly what i thought. Love that scene in the movie.
I’ll never forget that day. I was working in the news department of an Oxnard, CA radio station. I had just sat down for dinner when the lights above the table began to flicker. With my previous experience, that usually was an indication of a car striking a electrical pole.
I got on the phone with Oxnard PD and was told there was a plane crash on West Gonzales Road which was very close to my home. It was only a few minutes when I arrived at the scene in my Ford Pinto station wagon. The crash was just to the right side of the road. As I walked to the site I noticed, in the middle of the road, a rather mangled blue-colored Ford air filter cover. It did not cross my mind that this was from the crash until a OF Captain told me it was the flying Pinto car. Wow..only a few days before my father and I had spotted it in a hangar at the airport and got a real close look at it. It was really amazing to see!
I still have a tape recording from an eye-witness who was working in the lemon fields.
He told me he watched the plane as it was descending out of control through the tops of nearby eucalyptus trees landing close to his pickup truck which was damaged by the ensuing fire. I’ll will never forget when he pulled out a pen from his shirt pocket and nervously stated, ” I got the guys pen…I got the guys pen!”
The OFD Captain told me there were two deceased, the pilot and I believe, the president of the company.
After returning to the radio station, I called the Oxnard FAA control tower. The controller who answered said he really didn’t want to say much. But he did tell me when the aircraft took off, they wanted to return to the airport immediately. As I recall, he watched the experimental plane with binoculars and witnessed a wing separating from the car.
Anyway, I could go on with some other details but enough said. It was truly a said day in my life that I will never forget.
This is all very interesting information.What an unusual set of circumstances,but at the same time very very interesting.The whole venture has had my attention for a number of years now.What a story! And who would guess all these years later,people are still talking and remembering about the failed venture,and ultimate disaster.I find it odd that it happened Sept 11,1973.Seems Sept 11 (9-11) is a rather infamous calendar date,going as far back as 39 years now.More information and first hand witness accounts are welcomed.I was only 9 years old at the time,and knew nothing of the Mizar until a few years back.I think the “dream” that was Mizar was a time that has come and gone,with all thats happened in the past 11 years,privateers flying in their own cars would be a homeland security nightmare.In some ways,the failure of the project was a blessing,the manner of that failure very unfortunate,and tragic.I feel for all those who lost family and friends in this disaster.
I was born in Oxnard in 1961 and vaguely remember this. Luckily Gonzales Rd in those days wasn’t nearly as populated as it is now. I can’t believe they actually even let this thing take off and fly over people’s homes. Amazing! Richard I’d love to hear more details from you.
I remember that day as well. I was a young controller in the tower. I’d worked dayshift that day so it wasn’t until the next morning when I went to work that I heard all the details of it. They worked for several months doing ‘high speed taxi tests’ with it. First with the 210hp engine. It would struggle off the ground remaining in ground effect. Their Letter of Agreement did not allow them to fly it (away from the airport) at that time. They would climb about 5-10 feet then reduce power and it would “descend like a Pinto!” (AKA: aerodynamic rock) Next was to install the 300hp engine and continue tests. The day they landed in the bean field off the end of the runway they had remained airborne too long and couldn’t get it down on the runway. Not wanting to punch through the fence they flew it beyond the fence and landed it in the field.
The fateful flight was not (according to tower records as I recall) supposed to be a “flight”. The company President was up to check on things. The flight was supposed to only be a taxi test. As I recall now, they got too high and couldn’t land straight ahead. Instead they climbed to about 100 feet and made a closed right traffic pattern. (When they began flying it, they were supposed to depart on runway 25 and land on runway 7. And all flights to be clear of people and structures.)
They were about mid-field downwind when the wing folded… Game Over. “Rumor Control” had it the strut mounts had only been tack welded in place and a failed weld resulted in the failed wing.
Had they landed safely, it was my understanding that Flight Standards would have violated them for not adhering to the Letter of Agreement, plus flying over populated area as they would have done when the got close to Ventura Road and right base.
Richard.. interesting report on your part.
Er, and exactly why were these people doing this, endangering their own lives and those of folks they flew over??
Carl, that’s very good information you have provided and it’s in line with what I remember. I never new what the NTSB had determined to be the root cause of the accident until reading it here.
Incidently, I was flying out of Oxnard in our Cessna 172 at the time you were at the tower. A few years later we bought a new Cessna Skymaster. It was a great airplane and could fly safely on one engine if need be.
Richard can you please email me about the Mizar please.
Carl and Richard, My name is Linda my father was the president of AVE , he inventef the Mizar. My brother Doug and I are in the process of writing our dads live story. We would both love to talk to you.
Carl and Richard, My name is Linda my father was the president of AVE , he inventef the Mizar. My brother Doug and I are in the process of writing our dads live story. We would both love to talk to you. I would like to hear the recording, maybe it would help in the closure. Doug was 11 and I was 12 when our dad Henry Smolinski died. Thank you so much, Linda
Linda, If they don’t reply, I can forward your message to them directly via e-mail. I normally wouldn’t do that, but I can see importance of your request.
I sincerely hope the tone of my article does not cause additional pain to you and you brother. It’s easy to overlook the actual human element in tragic stories like this. Best of luck in writing the story. PN
Dear Paul, Thank you so much. Yes please forward my message to them. It’s been almost 39 years since my dad died Sept. 11, 1973 and we are still finding out new things. Paul I appreciate you doing this it means alot. Linda PS …..The man with the golden gun movie was our dads flying car. He could have sued them but he didn’t want to.
I received the email from Paul. I will email you directly soon.
Thank you Carl and Richard for talking with Doug and I. You have really helped us uncover some new information about the Mizar and what happened that last day. Thank you Paul for putting this up on your website. Look for the book of the Mizar coming soon.
Dear Paul Neidermeyer,
Thank you for posting the Mizar on your website. Also thank you for forwarding my email to Carl and Richard. My brother Doug and I both were able to talk with them. They helped us uncover some new things about the Mizar and the day we lost our dad. Look for the Mizar book coming out soon. Thank you to everyone posting all the nice comments about the Mizar and our dad Henry Smolinski. It’s comforting to know people still remember this and care.
When is the book coming out?
A guy on the Pinto boards named Pintony has found the car used in the promo video and is restoring it. It was still at Galpin Ford. They were also a sponser from what I understand.
The car was found a number of years back.
The book should be out soon. Doug and I are working with an editor right now. We have alot of information and alot of unseen photos.
Good. Let me know when it is, and I’ll run a post on it.
Hi Paul, Is it ok if we add you in the book for special thank you?
If you feel I’m worthy 🙂 I will help you promote the book here, as I know it’s a labor of love.
You are worthy, its people like you who make a difference in the world. Thank you for bringing awareness of my dads flying car to your website. It is nice to know he is not forgotten.
It seems unforgivable that anyone would try to make a plane out of a car, and not take into consideration how to properly put the thing together.
The lead photo is very cool, and very James Bond, even if there had not been a Bond movie featuring such a vehicle. I can hear the theme music now.
The goals of the carplane are indeed lofty (pun vaguely intended) considering the difficulty of making the vehicle functional for two purposes. The main approaches being that the car either escapes the plane structure (creating a bit of a storage issue) or that the car carries its plane structure while serving as a car both have many problems. Today’s world with so many safety expectations of the car as a ground vehicle probably makes this sort of car far more difficult. Even during the Pinto’s production period, the advent of 5 MPH bumpers would have created a new weight problem by 1973.
That can certainly be an issue. How about the structural integrity of the car, and therefore, the safety of the car and occupants inside? Whether it’s to spend most of its life flying, or 50/50 airborne/ground travelling, one needs to make sure it’s safe to do both. Obviously, unfortunately, whoever built this car/airplane, hadn’t considered that.
In the 50s, there was a sitcom that starred Bob Cummings and co-starred (I think, Ann B. Davis) and the opening sequence featured a plane that became a car, after the wings were removed.
Aside from the Pinto and the Matador (which was clearly a toy/model), 2 car companies not usually linked to aircraft are Porsche and Honda. Porsche has supplied an engine or 2 while Honda has an actual plane that is about to go on sale….if it hasn’t done so already.
Howard, I believe that was the Aerocar, designed in 1949. Although it didn’t sell well, it seemed to be fairly successful as a flying vehicle.
The HondaJet is awaiting final FAA certification–they have flying prototypes and orders on the books. A friend from high school works for them at their production facility in Greensboro, NC.
It is, however, a dedicated airframe and not a Civic with wings bolted on.
This reminds me of the paradox faced by the Amphicar.
You can build a good car, or you can build a good boat. Try to build one vehicle that does both, and you end up with a device that does neither function particularly well.
As bad as people drive cars today, I do not want them all flying planecars in the future. They can sort of move about 2 dimensionally, but adding that third dimension takes a special mind.
Exactly, that’s why ’50s PR about “a helicopter in every garage” was fantasy, rubbish, & not just because of cost (even the cheapest new helos are in $100K territory).
The engineering constraints of motoring & aviation cannot be reconciled with existing technology.
The Pinto may not have made a very good airplane, but contrary to popular opinion today, it was a mighty fine car. This comes from someone who put 100,000 miles on one in 5 years, and it already had 40,000+ miles on it when I bought it.
aS ALWAYS , SOME MIGHTY FINE READING HERE .
Every “flying car” has had exactly the same problem- to do both, it ends up a bad car and a bad plane- a mechanical dancing bear: “it isn’t about how well the bear dances, but that he dances at all”
Like I said, exactly the same reason why the Amphicar didn’t make a good car nor boat…
OK, I think we all can agree that cars and planes are too dissimilar for a fruitful mating. Likewise, cars make poor boats, despite the best efforts of BBC Top Gear, which crossed the English Channel with one of the three cars it modified for the purpose.
One hybrid that seems to work better is the flying boat, or amphibious airplane. There’s a history of success there, from the Alaskan floatplane to the mammoth, once-flown Spruce Goose. It would seem that aerodynamics has little argument with the hydrodynamics needed to keep a vessel afloat. In both cases, lightness counts. I might feel better if my next transatlantic trip was by Pan Am Clipper, able to land on water. That wouldn’t really be safer, since it would lack a jet’s ability to fly over storms, and it would probably prove to be a very poor boat in high seas, but still…
Remember well when the local news carried stories about the flying Pinto in LA. Then one day the crash happened and that was on all the news stations at the time. As soon as I saw Paul’s write up I remembered the car, and it was interesting to get some details on the story of the car. The comments were informative, great article.
I think I liked the one better where the plane became a car. A race car.
Linda and Doug,
I’m sorry for your loss. Obviously your father was a pioneer and despite several critiques, we would be nowhere without these brave and courageous souls.
I’ll be buying a copy of your book.
Thank you Dave, Doug and I have been working extremely hard on this book. And have lots of photos and amazing stories to share. We are almost done.
These men died doing what they loved. Flying aircraft and inventing. As an inventor of many things myself… Most times, it took me several years or research and experimenting to make it work. And after many failures, I might be successful 30% of the time. Recently, for example, Space Ship 2 crashed. And a man lost his life, for what he loved doing. God Bless them all, as we learn much from their mistakes… Someday there will be flying cars, and “only” because these people lost their lives, trying to make it a reality. Because as humans, we can’t help but want to make life better, easier, and go beyond what has ever been done before! They accomplished a lot in a short time. I would have be proud to know them!
What we have here is “The Murder Weapon that Kidnapped The Inventor”.
1. Henry Smolinski dropped off an Insurance policy the morning of his death with owner of Galpin Ford.
2. Henry Smolinski was out of character on that day and no permission from tower was requested and safety rules ignored on September 11, 1973.
3. Henry Smolinski was identified by a check book from Bank of A Levy that had been closed for more than 4 years.
4. Drivers license in his plastic holder in his wallet was missing; but his birth certificate was on him.
5. Wallet, birth certificate, check book were not burned or singed. Neither was his partner’s papers burned; somehow both mens I.D.’s survived a crash and engulfing flames of over 1,000° F.
6. The Mizar was a “Prototype Research Vehicle” designed only to “Drum Up Money”.
It was “NOT” intended to fly but only fly enough to get investors money because of it’s compromises.
7. R.C. remote control suicide flight. 911
8. Henry Smolinski is doing “Inventive Work” in other countries.
9. FAA Report was partially missing and detroyed!
10. The autopsy report never proved the victim in Mizar Crash was Henry Smolinski; He was seen at the Airport; then he disappeared!
11. Henry Smolinski’s office was “Ransacked” before and after the Mizar crash. Henry Smolinski always kept a “Clean and Tidy Office”.
Hello, I’m another daughter of Henry Smolinski. There are 7 children.We are still trying to uncover the truth about the car on Sept 11, 1973. His body was never identified. No dental records. We want to exhume his body to make sure he really died. There is no proof it was really him.
I am a producer currently working on developing a series based around inventors who were killed by their own inventions… if this page is still updated as of 4/28/2019, please anyone involved email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I would love to hear anything you might know about the details in this event.
I would happily have what George Jetson had—a hovercar that folds up into a briefcase at the touch of a button.
This Flederpinto, though…nnnno, none for me, thanks; I’m driving. Or flying. But not in the same vehicle.
Automobiles and aircraft are such dissimilar vehicles to me it makes so sense trying to create a flying car. Cars have all sort of requirements dictated by the NTHSA and likewise aircraft are governed by the FAA. Aircraft by their nature have to be lightweight and the NTHSA has mandated all sorts of requirements for automobiles(crash standards, rollover standards to name but two and don’t forget the EPA.) I suppose one could create a flying car if lots of exotic materials like carbon graphite and such, but who would be able to afford it? Anyway if such a craft existed it would probably make a terrible car and a terrible airplane.
Mating a purpose-built car (and a bad one, at that) with a purpose-built airframe doesn’t seem like a very good idea. With that said, designing and building the whole thing from the ground up sounds like it has possibilities, maybe like that thing with folding wings a while back you could also drive on streets. I forget the name but it seems like it would be a good follow-up CC to the Mizar article.
Years ago I read about Russia’s development of various Ekranoplanes (ground-effect vehicles) aka flying boats. Anyone not familiar with GEV’s I suggest checking out Wikipedia for a good overview. I believe airplanes and cars will forever remain separate for a multitude of reasons I will not get into. Safety being the paramount reason. However ground effect technology just might allow us to bridge this gap by allowing vehicles to fly only 12″ – 24″ above the road surface without the use of a hovercraft type curtain. Imagine a future that let’s us fly via ground effect via select interstate highways then revert to wheeled operation on all other roadways. Just a thought/ dream. But that thought is only ever made possible by the creativity and determination of Henry Smolinski and persons like him.
Hmmm… based on the photo of a ground effect vehicle, the term “suspension system” takes on an entirely new meaning. 😉
Any updates on the “book” being published by the Smolinskis?
Press photo, 1973
July/August 1970 article appeared in many papers–this is the longest version I could turn up, and might be the whole press release:
Crash report–‘had flown successfully earlier that day.’
Reminds me of the scene with Henry Gibson flying across the Chicago River in “The Blues Brothers.” Will never forget watching the red Pinto wagon ( and dummies?) hanging off a very large crane when the scene was being filmed – my office was very close. Several of the girls from the office were extras in the dancing scene with Aretha Franklin. The saxophone player was a regular busker at the Michigan Avenue bridge. Another CC article triggering great memories.
I’m continually surprised they didn’t go to a scale model, especially since a model kit of the Pinto wagon was made by MPC available off-the-shelf.
I missed this article the first time around, and I don’t mean to dismiss the creator’s daughter or anyone else associated with the project, but the first thing I thought of when seeing the orange Pinto in the lead photo was… “I hate Illinois Nazis.”
I’m too young to have been around downtown for the Blues Brothers filming, but when I worked downtown I did get to see the Transformers film sets, and I’m pretty sure they were way more enjoyable than watching the actual movies.
Edit: for those not familiar with the Blues Brothers Pinto: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIUKbz1cj7o
A terrific tidbit on the famous flying Pinto scene in The Blues Brothers is that the FAA made the filmmakers get an ‘airworthiness’ certificate for the car. Supposedly, it was to be certain the Pinto wouldn’t sail (i.e., ‘fly’) off when dropped. As can be seen in the movie, the Pinto flew as much as a falling brick.
Given the earlier Mizar crash, I can’t help but think that it played a big role in the FAA’s requirement for the Pinto scene.
Best crash photo I could turn up, Paul: