A is for Aero­plane

Unique Cars - - GARAGE GURUS -

As re­quested by Mr Morley in t he lat­est Unique Cars mag­a­zine, here’s some more in­for­ma­tion on aero­planes pow­ered by a Model A Ford en­gine. The plane t hat I am build­ing, pow­ered by a Model A Ford en­gine, was de­signed in 1928 by Bernard Pi­eten­pol (BHP), a prac­tica l ge­nius who could be de­scribed as t he fat her of home­built air­cra f t. In t he early 1920s he built a num­ber of planes of his own de­sign us­ing the Model T Ford en­gine. With the in­tro­duc­tion of the Model A Ford in 1928, he de­signed a new craft to utilise t he new en­gine. This be­came known as the Air Cam­per af­ter the plans were se­ria lised over four is­sues of t he Mod­ern Me­chan­ics and In­ven­tions

mag­a­zine. How this came about makes for great read­ing.

In 1930, not long af ter he had built his air­plane, the ed­i­tor of the mag­a­zine wrote that he was not a fan of us­ing au­to­mo­bile en­gines and specif ica lly stated t hat the A Ford en­gine could not be used. Pi­eten­pol took t his as a chal­lenge, and he and a friend, f ly ing a sec­ond Pi­eten­pol-built plane, f lew up to where t he ed­i­tor was at­tend­ing a f ly-in. The up­shot of t his was that the ed­i­tor was so im­pressed wit h t he plane’s de­sign, safet y and f light char­ac­ter­is­tics t hat, in 1931, he se­ria lised t he plans over four is­sues of t he mag­a­zine. The de­sign, named the Air Cam­per, was mod­i­fied in t he early 1930s, and a sin­gle seater, ca lled t he

Sk y Scout, was de­signed in 1933 (and again, t he plans were pub­lished in the same mag­a­zine).

The Ford motor is re­versed in t he plane with the prop at­tached to t he crank f lange v ia a T Ford trans­mis­sion shaft which, amaz­ingly, matches up per­fect ly. Other mod­i­fi­ca­tions in­clude re­plac­ing t he dis­tributer with a mag­neto and mod­i­fi­ca­tions to t he oil­ing sys­tem nec­es­sar y due to the repo­si­tion­ing of t he en­gine. Other changes are made to re­duce t he weight.

In t he early 1960s Chevro­let in­tro­duced t he Cor vair, a rear-en­gined car wit h an air-cooled f lat si x, an en­gine more av ia­tion than au­to­mo­bile. The Cor vair is re­mem­bered by many for its in­clu­sion in Ralph Nader’s book ‘Un­safe at Any Speed’. Pi­eten­pol em­braced this en­gine for his planes and it is used by many builders in the USA. Un­for­tu­nately, Cor vair en­gines in Aus­tra lia are as scarce as rock ing-horse

ma­nure. This is the main rea­son I have cho­sen the Ford; avail­abilit y, and a lso for nosta lg ia.

The main rea­son the A Ford en­gine is so suit­able is it pro­duces high torque at low revs, and will spin a la rge pro­pel­ler. So fa r, I be­lieve, over 40 dif fer­ent en­gines have been used to power t his craft. The de­sign al­lows the wing to be moved to ac­com­mo­date changes in weight and bal­ance. V W en­gines do not prov ide enough torque at low revs to spin a big prop.

Pla ns for t his pla ne, and t he Sk y Scout, are still avail­able from Bernard’s grand­son, An­drew. Check out t he Pi­eten­pol Air­craf t Com­pany web­site. David Boarder, Email.

WELL, DAVID, I opened my big trap, and you’ve come up with the goods. At the time, I re­call I ques­tioned the san­ity in us­ing a Ford Model A en­gine in a fly­ing ma­chine of any sort, but you’ve now proved to me that it’s a real `thing’. In fact, I jumped on to the in­tern­erd af­ter re­ceiv­ing your let­ter and found a stack of videos of Model A-pow­ered Pi­eten­pol-made planes that have been res­ur­rected, re­stored and are now dron­ing through the skies with that un­mis­tak­able Model A four-cylin­der sound­track blast­ing from the open pipes. This one was prob­a­bly the best of them and shows the whole thing in in­cred­i­ble de­tail: bit.ly/2u0tXTt

And I sup­pose that, pro­vided you can make the en­gine re­li­able, there’s no rea­son not to use a low-revving, big-torqueat-small-revs en­gine in a plane, is there? And since the rest of the deal is fab­ric, tim­ber, string and op­ti­mism, maybe en­gine reli­a­bil­ity is the least of your wor­ries. But it looks like you know what you’re do­ing, so good luck with it and I hope to come and watch it fly one of th­ese days. Em­pha­sis on `watch­ing’; not join­ing you in the cock­pit.

But se­ri­ously, thanks for get­ting back to me and shar­ing a truly re­mark­able, if some­what tan­gen­tial, view of the old Model A Ford.

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