Ford Aviation Division

By:      Norm Goyer

“I dreamed I was an angel
And with the angels soared
But I was simply touring
The heavens in a Ford.”

The Ford Fliver was supposed to be the flying Model T but a fatal accident caused Henry Ford to drop the project.

The Ford Fliver was supposed to be the flying Model T but a fatal accident caused Henry Ford to drop the project.

Henry Ford and his son Edsel Ford loved aircraft.  During the early years of Ford the two men were heavily involved with various aviation projects. Of course, we all know the most popular Ford aircraft was the Ford Trimotor which is credited with helping start the airline business. Its three engines, corrugated aluminium cover and great reliability has kept the old airplane still flying, almost 85 years since it was designed by Stout. There are very few people who have not heard of the very famous Ford Trimotor. But, how about the Ford 12 cylinder engine designed during World War II for the US Navy. What about the Ford Flying Fliver, a companion to the Ford Model T Fliver. And.. there was the heavy but excellent Ford V-8 flat head engine which powered the Arrow Sport, a two place, low-wing aircraft designed for the Ford V-8 85 hp engine. Ford was definitely an airplane aware company.

In 1925, The Ford Fliver  was designed according to Ford’s instructions that it “fit in his office”. The first example was displayed at the 1926 Ford National Reliability Air Tour. The press and public flocked to see “Ford’s Flying Car,” a single-seat aircraft that had very little in common with the popular Model T “Flivver.” Comedian Will Rogers posed for press photos in the aircraft (although he never flew one.) The aircraft had a welded steel tube fuselage, with wood wing construction covered with fabric. The steerable rudder mounted tailwheel was also the only wheel with a brake. The exhaust was routed through a special manifold to a stock Model T exhaust. The steel landing gear was fastened to the wing and used rubber doughnuts in compression for shock absorption. The designer of the aircraft, Otto Koppen, went on to design the Helio Courier. Certainly the Fliver had good parentage. Ford unveiled the Flivver on his 63rd birthday, July 30, 1926. Ford’s chief test pilot was Harry J. Brooks, a young employee who had became a favorite of Ford. Brooks flew the Flivver regularly from his home garage to work at the Ford Laboratory, and later, used the second Flivver to move about the Ford properties.He once flew the aircraft in a race against Gar Wood in Miss America V on the Detroit River during the Harmsworth Trophy Races.

Both Henry Ford and son Edsel loved aviation. The Ford Trimotor designed by Stout was one of the most well known designs in the world. Many are still flying.

Both Henry Ford and son Edsel loved aviation. The Ford Trimotor designed by Stout was one of the most well known designs in the world. Many are still flying.

In an attempt to draw on his popularity, Charles Lindbergh was invited to fly the Flivver on a visit to Ford field, August 11, 1927, and was the only other pilot to fly the Flivver prototypes. He later described the Flivver as, “one of the worst aircraft he ever flew”.

On February 25, Ford’s test pilot Harry Brooks took off on a record attempting flight, circled out over the Atlantic where his motor quit and he went down off  Melbourne, Florida. The wreckage of the Ford Flivver washed up, but the pilot was never found. Investigation of the wreckage disclosed that the fuel tank vents were plugged causing the engine to quit.

Ford designed an excellent V-12 double overhead cam double valve aircraft engine for the US Navy. Navy changed its mind and Ford converted the engine to a V-8 and it was heavily used in tanks during WWII.

Ford designed an excellent V-12 double overhead cam double valve aircraft engine for the US Navy. Navy changed its mind and Ford converted the engine to a V-8 and it was heavily used in tanks during WWII.

Following the death of Brooks, Henry Ford was distraught at the loss of his friend. Light aircraft development was stopped under the Ford brand. In 1931, a new “Air Flivver” or Sky Car was marketed by the Ford’s Stout division.   Ford went back into light plane development in 1936 with the two-seat Model 15-P. The prototype crashed during flight testing and did not go into production.

Ford also converted their popular flat head V-8 auto engine to be used in aircraft. It was too heavy but was a very good engine. The Arrow used it.

Ford also converted their popular flat head V-8 auto engine to be used in aircraft. It was too heavy but was a very good engine. The Arrow used it.

During World War II the Defense Department placed orders for Navy engines with similar specification to the Merlins and Allisons. Ford responded with their design. Ford had developed an aircraft engine similar to that of the Rolls-Royce Merlin and Allison engines of that era. It was a 60 degree V-12 with aluminum block and head, dual overhead camshaft, and 4 valves per cylinder. The intention of this design was to help Ford break into the anticipated large market for fighter engines. This engine was built to typical aircraft standards: it was light, high performance, and highly reliable. Everything was safety wired or staked with close attention to detail on every part. Available information suggests this design performed well.

The Arrow used a Ford 85-hp flat head V-8. Flew well but it was not put into production.

The Arrow used a Ford 85-hp flat head V-8. Flew well but it was not put into production.

However, this engine never went into production as an aircraft engine due to the US Navy’s decision to only use radial engines for its aircraft, and the Army’s contractual commitments to existing engine manufacturers. With the approach of war, increasing orders for the M4 tanks were causing supply issues with the existing engine. The U.S. Army decided they needed to source an engine supplier, so Ford removed 4 cylinders from the design and it went into production as a V-8.

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