Santayana– History Repeats
Ford–History is Bunk
Flivver history means Flying Cars Doomed or Success
Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.--George Santayana "History is more or less bunk. It's tradition. We don't want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinker's damn is the history that we make today." --Henry Ford
Quotes from George Santayana, a philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist, and Henry Ford, an American captain of industry and a business magnate, in the above respective quotes express different views of history. Santayana thought that history was cyclical, following patterns of the past. Mr. Ford gave the past’s predictive value low marks.
These opinions are relevant or not when applied with Mr. Ford’s experience trying to develop a flying car, which he named a Flivver. The man who brought the car to the American people, predicted “Mark my words: a combination airplane and motorcar is coming. You may smile, but it will come.” As the record makes clear, the Flivver did fly, but it never reached the predicted position of an aerocar.
Ford’s vision began with his acquisition in 1924 of the Stout Metal Airplane Company. This venture was responsible for the design and manufacture of the successful Ford Tri-Motor transport plane.
Ford selected engineer Otto Koppen to develop “the Model T of the air”, a small, light craft. The project created the Ford Flivver-
- a small single-seat,
- single engine (3-cylinder, air cooled, 35-horsepower engine)
- aircraft empty weight 350# (planned 2-cylinder engine would reduce weight to 310#)
- 15’ fuselage of steel alloy, and the
- 23” wood wings covered with fabric
- top speed 100 mph [unclear whether that is air speed or on the ground]
- to operate on the roads, the Flivver added wheels where the tail skid was for flight (above picture shows road configuration)
- flaps were designed to give it quick upward lift for a quick takeoff,
- price $37,000 in 1920s $
The “model” was subject to two years of testing by a pilot selected by Ford—Harry J. Brooks. Ford’s friend performed all of the maneuvers required to prove its airworthiness (this was pre-CAA/FAA; so the standards were likely set by Underwriters’ Laboratories) and he also used the prototype to commute (fly) to his suburban home as well as arrive at the 1st Tee for golf. Lindbergh was the only other pilot who flew the Flivver, but reportedly, the famous aviator did not give it high marks “one of the worst aircraft he ever flew”).
Ford, the consummate marketer, decided to demonstrate the plane’s utility set up a flight by Brooks on a non-stop flight from Detroit to Miami. On this attempt Henry Ford made it clear that his priority was Brooks over Flivver, when he ordered his favorite as follows: “Don’t mind the plane—we can build another. Watch yourself.”
(view of the cockpit at the EAA museum and a 3600 view available here)
Brooks was forced to land in North Carolina, but on Flight #2 he set a long distance record for a light plane by getting as far as Titusville, FL (930 miles). There, he fixed a leaking gas line and replacing a broken propeller (not inconsequential repairs), he departed for short hop (90 miles) to Miami.
The Flivver did not make it to the destination and a search found his plane floating in the ocean near Melbourne, FL. The wreckage was returned to Detroit where an examination determined that “a rudder wire had snapped, leaving Brooks with no directional control.” Ford promised that he would not give up on the project, but the Depression and competition in the automotive industry.
The Air & Space magazine offers this insight into a reason why the Flivver project died:
“And in the days after the Flivver crash, the inventor was racked with grief. Recalled Hicks, ‘After Brooks’ death, late one night Henry Ford came through the laboratory on his way home. I stopped him and said, ‘Mr. Ford, do you want anything more done on the development of this two-cylinder engine?’ He said, ‘Well, what’s it good for?’ I said, ‘Well, it’s good for a Flivver plane.’ He said, ‘What are they good for?’ “
Depending on whether you subscribe to Fordian or Santayanaian historiography, you may see this incident as a poor portent for the future of flying cars or irrelevant.
Whatever happens, Mr. Brooks’ pioneering efforts and sacrifice should be remembered.
 According to many he was a “difficult, uneducated, and litigious fellow”
 Taylor, James. Sport Aviation, April 1990.Share this article: