Arch Stanton Guest Post: Episode 26 in Today I Learned – First Flying Car


I bet you’re one of those people who whines about how “I was promised flying cars in the future, yet all I have are square watermelons and multiple types of bottled water,” which would make you WRONG because the flying car has been invented already!

You have a visual in your head of what a flying car looks like – sleek, modern, sophisticated, high-powered but discreet engines – probably something between the Delorean from Back to the Future and a Tesla for even bigger douches. In regards to the first flying car, you would be wrong (boy, you sure are wrong a lot) – it was a Ford Pinto. You know, the absolute piece of rolling trash your mom had for a first car in the 1970s that has since become synonymous with “shit ass car”? Or maybe you know it as the vehicle that, when it was determined to be overweight, Ford removed the bumpers, which in turn led the vehicle to be “prone to fuel ruptures.” You know, exploding! Two idiots decided this was the perfect prototype for mass produced and individualized flight. Even if I hadn’t already told you, you knew this was destined to fail glamorously.

Henry Smolinski and Harold Blake were two “engineers” from Los Angeles who dedicated themselves to solving the issue of personalized flight. They chose to ignore the fact you could already fly safely and conveniently, but they wanted even MORE convenience with way less safety. People can barely drive in two dimensions with hitting curbs or each other, surely a third dimension will make this better!

Smolinski and Blake founded Advanced Vehicle Engineers (you will soon see how none of these terms adequately describes what they were actually doing). They developed the prototype which was essentially a Ford Pinto with the wings and ass-end (a technical term) of a Cessna plopped on top, and called it the AVE Mizar. The plan was for the engine for both the plane and the car would be used to get up to takeoff speed, at which point the car engine could be turned off until landing, at which point the car breaks would be used to slow down once on the ground again. This all seems… well, reasonable. I haven’t checked all the hypotenuses, but this seems like a legitimate plan to me. The issue was AVE wanted to make the wings detachable.

Let that marinate a second. These idiots wanted to develop a miniature plane and figured the best way to do so would be to take a garbage car and drop wings on that you yourself could remove. I’m no aeronautical engineer but I would like my wings to be firmly fastened to the chassis of my vehicle when I am thousands of the feet. Smolinski and Blake would call me a coward. We are ultimately swapping safety (wings that don’t easily detach) for convenience (you can detach the wings in minutes on the ground and drive away) – because the people willing to risk their lives are going to definitely drive a Pinto with expensive out-rigging instead of just a regular Cessna.

Shocking to no one with a brain, upon an early test flight, the right wing “failed” immediately after takeoff. Somehow, test pilot Red Janisse managed to safely crash his Pinto in a nearby bean field, at which point he should have unfastened the wings and drove off into the sunset forever. But no, he drove the Mizar with the wings still attached straight back to the airport in his remarkably undamaged Pinto.

This was – somehow – considered a massive success. It got AVE tons of publicity, which Smolinski spun into press conferences. Some notable quotes were: “even a woman can easily put the two systems together, or separate them, without help” and “the aircar people acknowledge there are problems, but we feel we have the answers.” Now, you may have noticed we do not live in a time where there are constantly Pinto’s zipping about overhead. This is called contextually foreshadowing.

Janisse knew when to quit, but Smolinski and Blake did not. Roughly two weeks after the near disastrous test flight, Smolinski piloted the next takeoff with Blake riding shotgun in this heap of shit. As before, we had some trouble pretty early into the flight, the trouble being THE FUCKING CAR COMPLETELY SEPARATED FROM THE WINGS IN THE AIR. Needless to say, there was not a turbulent-yet-successful landing as before, but a crash that killed both men. Turns out that while a woman could attach the wings, the two founders of the company could not.

BONUS FUN FACT: This rolling, partially-guided bomb was the inspiration to the AMC Matador seen in James Bond’s “The Man with the Golden Gun,” which is either the best or the worst James Bond movie depending on your tolerance for campy bullshit. Noticeably, James Bond was not killed after failing to properly attach the wings.

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