Flying Car at Food Lion AutoFair
"Where's My Flying Car?" was the headline to a recent Popular Science magazine cover story. It's a question automotive enthusiasts have asked since Henry Ford's Model T, and the April 6-9 Food Lion AutoFair at Charlotte Motor Speedway will provide the answer with some help from Discovery Channel's "Monster Garage."
Several inventors have pursued the goal of an airborne America, but no one's efforts have so captured the imagination as those of Discovery Channel's "Monster Garage" host Jesse James.
For those unfamiliar with the television program's concept, a hand-picked team of welders, fabricators and specialists joins the custom motorcycle builder to endow an ordinary car or truck with abilities it was not intended to have. Past shows have featured such Frankenstein creations as the Richard Petty stock car/street sweeper, a Ford Explorer/garbage truck, and who can forget the Mustang/lawn mower? Each is designed, assembled and tested in a stress-filled five-day period that sometimes brings out the worst in people-all in the name of reality television!
Coming up with wilder and wilder transformations for each program became more difficult as the California-based show went into its third season, but James' idea of a flying car must have seemed crazy even by "Monster Garage" standards. To crank up the insanity James, who has no background or education in aviation, insisted he be the flying car's test pilot.
Three Cessna engineers, several aircraft builders and aviation enthusiasts provided knowledge about such things as ailerons, stabilizers, pitch and yaw. Additional expertise came from lifelong flying car experimenter Ed Sweeney, whose personal collection of aircraft includes a 1956 version of Moulton Taylor's Aerocar in which he once received flying lessons from the designer.
The crew started with a high-performance Panoz Esperante roadster that retails just north of $90,000, a salvaged Lycoming four-cylinder airplane engine and a lot of 4130 chrome-moly steel tubing and sheet aluminum. Weight is the enemy of lighter-than-air travel, so the Panoz was stripped of any unnecessary items, including the interior, windshield and trunk lid.
When the nine-man team finished, the new machine had a 38-foot wingspan, an overall length of 26 feet, two engines (the car's 4.6-liter Mustang-based V-8 was retained for ground use) and a bright red paint job with Iron Cross insignia evoking the legendary Red Baron's Fokker Dr 1 tri-plane.
"Monster Garage" producers knew the FAA would not permit the homemade car-plane to take off and land without extensive testing and development, but aviation guidelines would allow a powered glide-fast enough to get airborne, but not high enough to technically count as flight. This loophole also meant flight controls could be less complex, which is the only break the ambitious crew received during construction. At the end of day five, success was declared when both engines fired, allowing James to scoot across a nearby parking lot at up to 70 mph.
A month later, 3,000 miles away at an airport near Kitty Hawk, N.C., the James gang watched as the show's host-with only one hour of flight training-lifted the Panoz a yard off the pavement at 80 mph for nearly the length of a football field. A century earlier, the Wright Brothers performed a similar precarious flight just a few miles away.
Creating a flying car was the realization of a dream James had when he was 7 years old, and it will be displayed during the April 6-9 Food Lion AutoFair. Other special attractions include the wild Tornado Attack vehicle, a Navy Osprey airplane capable of vertical takeoffs and landings, a race car that runs on renewable biodiesel fuel, unusual vehicles from the Lane Motor Museum, the amazing Amphicar and a Century of Turbochargers display.
Hours for the April 6-9 Food Lion AutoFair are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., on Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults. Children under 12 are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Parking for the event is $5.
For information, contact the Charlotte Motor Speedway events department at 704-455-3205 or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.