Tom Haines

Flying the Aerocar–Step back in time

June 8, 2009 by Thomas B. Haines, Editor in Chief

My column about the status of the Terrafugia Transition “flying car” (or “roadable airplane”) has drawn quite a number of responses, but one in particular stands out. Rather than me telling you, read for yourself what AOPA member Paul Gerst experienced relative to Molt Taylor’s famed Aerocar. It’s a fun read and a fascinating look back to another era:

Your great piece, “From highway to airway” in AOPA Pilot’s May issue brought back some treasured memories!

In 1956, or maybe 1957, Kaiser Aluminum sent me to Longview, Washington, to meet with Molt Taylor about Kaiser becoming involved with the Aerocar.

Oddly, I was the only pilot in the headquarters sales organization. At that time Kaiser Motors was still making its often times “thrilling” cars, the Fairchild Division was making airframe components, Kaiser Permante (the cement company, not the HMO!) was into the federal highway program, and, of course, Kaiser Aluminum and Kaiser Steel were significant world wide suppliers of metals!

I was told that Henry Kaiser had seen the Bob Cummings TV show and was attracted to the prospects of the Aerocar. He envisioned that the then-embrionic interstate program could easily lay a quarter mile of landing strips parallel to the highway every 10 miles or so. No IFR needed, with good luck!

The business plan was to sell the separable airfoil and prop assembly on a 10-year repayment plan, and sell the road-able component like a car; at that time, two or three years “to pay”. Molt Taylor had a four-passenger mock-up in his shop, but the two-place model seemed adequate. We envisioned a throng of WWII pilots who had to travel a big territory buying Aerocars! Remember, that was the era when a DC-7 was the “last word” in air travel. It used to take 7 or 8 hours for the Chicago to San Francisco junket, but the stewardesses were in their twenties so one could survive, somehow, if he had to!

Molt met me at the Portland Airport arrival gate in the car section, as I recall, and he let me drive to the part of the field where the wings were parked.The car section drove a lot like a Porsche in first gear; very “torquey”. Molt and I relatively effortlessly attached the wings, tail cone, and empanage. The takeoff was amazing. I recall a trim-tab-like control in the middle of the panel just below where the compass was mounted. It had a couple of pieces of masking tape on which were written: “Take-off” and “Fly Level”, and that’s just what the Aerocar did when the lever was moved.

Molt and I went to a drug store and he bought something his wife wanted, I guess. Maybe he just made the trip to show me that the car was usable around town. Back then there weren’t 500 shopping carts littering every strip center parking lot. I doubt if the Aerocar would fair any better than my Audi S-8 does against a shopping cart!

Those were heady times! I was a young MBA just turning 30. I and my peers felt that the world was our oyster. Anything was possible. Why not the Aerocar?

My Audi S-8 will cruise the interstates at 90 mph for six hours with the all-wheel drive sneering at rain drops, the Bose system hammering out Ornette Coleman harmonies, as I lounge in fully adjustable Italian leather seats caressed by a climate control system that even shunts off the odors from the occasional cattle feed lot.

I think I get it.

Paul “PR” Gerst

Newport Beach, California


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