AVE Mizar Flying Pinto - Boom, you're flying.

Ever seen one of the documentaries on the History And Superstition Channel about flight, made mostly out of stock footage of wacky old airship designs? Actually, since most shows on the "History" channel are about Bigfoots or UFO's, there's precious little on the network about anything that actually ever happened*, so better change that opening sentence to "Science Channel". Gotta make a not to have the editor swap that out.

Anyway, blah blah Science Channel something something wacky old failed airplane designs? Well, we may laugh, but we haven't really left that too far behind. Even Mythbusters routinely attempt to verify myths that can easily be discounted without practical testing at all. However, they re in the business of making entertainment first, and doing science second. So yes, the creation of wacky flying machines has not sloped off as aerodynamic understanding has ramped up.

Popular Mechanics, 1973. Behold, the AVE Mizar flying car. It's a modified Pinto stuck to the underside of an airplane. AVE (whoever they were) regarded  this machine as a "Pinto that sprouts wings". Well, that is clearly not the case, just by looking at it. A "flying car" would need to be a car that can be driven on the ground or flown like a plane. What the AVE Mizar is, is a 90% functional airplane - complete with it's own motor - which has been hobbled with a Pinto mounted to it's underside. The wings have their own motor, prop and fuel supply (airplanes carry their fuel in the wings). The Pinto is serving basically as a detachable cabin.

The problem with airplanes historically has not been "What to do with that pesky cabin once you land?" One may argue that there's a benefit to having your car go with one when one flies away, avoiding the nightmare of parking. Yes, but one would then have to find a place to park the giant wings in order to drive the Pinto away, after landing, wouldn't one? Parking a car is easier than parking an airplane. As a replacement for a conventional plane-and-car duo, the Pinto-stuck-on-a-plane idea solves no problem at all. In either case, you still need an airport at both ends of your trip to take off and land. You're just avoiding one parking fee, which you're exchanging for a 100% chance of looking silly and a 20% chance of exploding and being distributed evenly over the ground.

Apart from that, there's the wildly optimistic notion that every driver would be bright enough and coherent enough to carry a pilot's license. No offense to cell phone talking SUV drivers, but my life is threatened at least once per day by people driving SUV's while talking on the phone. I'd be delighted to have the "multitaskers" segregated into a lane of their own, or simply moved out of the way, say, into the sky. However, this would almost certainly insure that when - bear with me now -  irresponsible drivers inevitably have an accident, we would then be faced with their cars plummeting earthward, instead of quietly folding the Escalade around a nice sturdy tree.

AVE's curious choice of modifying a Ford Pinto is.. uuh... curious (note to self: have editor make that sentence look less stupid). The Pinto is famous for it's mild explosion problem. Giving a Pinto an extra hundred gallons of fuel, stored in the wings, to ignite and then spray in all directions seems ill-advised. On the other hand, I am a stolid Darwinian, and I love the idea of allowing the dimwitted to take a permanent breather from the rat race. If only we could legislate a method for them to do so without taking out other, less useless humans with them.

The flying car idea has not gone away. The most successful example at the time of this writing is the Moller Skycar, which relies entirely on props to maintain flight, as opposed to some kind of airfoil. The Moller Skycar has a ducted fan engine at each corner, powered by four Wankel rotary engines (made famous by the Mazda RX-7 and RX-8) driving each fan-pod.

Cool looking" Oooh, yeah. Safe? Nuh-uh. Upon laying eyes on this design, my dad immediately pointed out that, should the vehicle lose power, it would fall from the sky. Only the force of the motors keeps it airborne. Airplanes and even helicopters can return to Earth at non-fatal velocity in the event of power loss. A helicopter's rotor will "auto-rotate" as if falls, slowing the descent to possibly survivable speeds. The Moller would drop like a stone. If it loses power to only one motor, it's fate is less clear, but far from rosy. At least Moller borrowed parts from an RX-7, instead of a Pinto. The Wankel Rotary motor has always had a problem holding onto it's oil. They leak like a colander. This may bring some Moller Skycars back to Earth prematurely, but since the Pinto-based AVE-Mizar would probably just explode while airborne, the Moller would leave a smaller debris field to clean up, which is very considerate.

*Since every personal device larger than a Rice Krispy now has a camera in it, the amount of decent evidence (more then zero) for paranormal phenomena should have skyrocketed in the past decade or so. Despite this, convincing, plausible footage of bigfoot, aliens, and the chupacabra is not to be found. This leads any objective observer to declare such crypto-zoological monsters to be B.S.


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