A is for Aeroplane
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.