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The World’s Largest Airwheels Tour the Nation for Goodyear

In 1929, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company introduced the Airwheel, its first low-pressure balloon tire for use on airplanes. Alvin J. Musselman developed this tire and Goodyear referred to it as the “Musselman Type” in press releases. It used a small rim and a large section tire that was capable of carrying heavy loads. In airplane use, it also eliminated the need for costly shock absorbers due to better cushioning abilities.

The Airwheel was patented by Musselman and the rights were assigned to Goodyear. The Company announced it to the public in August of 1929. Earlier in the summer, the Tire Company paraded one of the enormous twelve-feet tall by four-foot wide tires only needing to be inflated to three p.s.i. with a tractor-trailer (below) around the city of Akron, Ohio, to publicize it.

  • One of the first Goodyear Airwheels mounted on a trailer.

After testing the tires Goodyear had the Flxible Co. of Loudonville, Ohio, construct a three-door bus body on a lengthened 1929 Buick chassis. The lower rear panel of the coachwork was constructed with a recessed area where the swing-arm attached to the car frame by the use of a fifth wheel.

This Buick towing the first tire began a tour that covered close to half of the states in the country over a two-year period. A second Buick tow car was built, and the pair toured the nation during the early thirties. In 1930 Goodyear offered the passenger car sized Airwheel’s for use on Fords and Chevrolets. At that time one of the new automotive balloon tire and wheel assemblies were attached to the sides of each swing-arm for comparison purposes.

The Goodyear low-pressure large-section tires and small diameter wheels for use on passenger cars, like the others of its type did not become popular in the marketplace at the time. The cost of purchasing a new set of tires and a matching set of rims was an option only the well-heeled motorist could afford during the Great Depression. The General Tire Company also introduced its General Balloon Jumbos, a similar type of tire and wheel assembly at about the same time.

30 responses to “The World’s Largest Airwheels Tour the Nation for Goodyear

  1. Those huge tires are similar to the ones used on the first model B-36 of the 1940s. Diameter on these Goodyear 110 aviation tires was over nine feet. Originally there were just two main wheels on the aircraft – but they carried so much weight when landing they often dented the runway.

  2. A couple of things puzzle me David and maybe you could shed some light on it. Top picture of the specialized tow vehicle, what did they use to shine the tires up? They didn’t have Armor-all back then. And, I wonder what happened to the two cars?

    • J, I don’t know, but assume they must have had something that worked.

      The Buicks crisscrossed the county for a few years and racked up a lot of miles, there is agood possibilty they were just plain used up. Maybe a reader will know more their fate?

      • In 1931 a different bus of the same type made visits in York, PA. The vehicle had no branding or speakers other than what was on the large tire. Someone else commented that there were three tires made. I was wondering if this was a third promo crew or if something happened to one of the original vehicles and this was rushed to service to keep promo dates. That would explain the lack of branding on the car. It is different from the two in this article in that the rear axle appears to have far more lug nuts.

    • The top photo, the tires might just be that new that they are shiny. They could also have been “shined-up’ with paste-wax, kerosene, Diesel fuel, etc. Or one of the commonly available “tire dressings” of the era.

      At any rate, I believe that everything in the top photo is fresh and new, w/o many miles on them.

      In the bottom photo, both vehicles have some mileage / road-rash on them…

  3. Curious. In the General Information Handbook for Hudson Built Automobiles on page 74 of the Hudson section there is mention of Truck Air Wheel Tires – Optional at Extra Cost. I wonder if Goodyear manufactured air wheels for passenger/commercial tires using the terminology from the aircraft tires.

  4. In 1932, one of them was taken to Campbellsville, KY. In a book on the history of the town, it’s noted that the tire weighed over 1,000 pounds, the inner tube alone weighed 125 pounds, and that three of them were made for promotional use.

    Smaller Airwheels were used on the Lockheed Electra and Electra Junior, as well as Stinson Model A, T, and U aircraft and Aeronca C-3 “Flying Bathtubs.” The C-3 had to add a shock absorber after the first flight tests because it tended to porpoise on landing if it relied just on the Airwheel’s softness.

  5. I also wondered what plane then was large enough for that size tire. Must have been some. Whiz and other auto products companies from that era marketed both black and white tire dressing.

    • A Ford TriMotor only used 15.00-16 tires. Looking a decade later, a B-17 only used a 20.44-27 and the post-WW2 C-124 cargo aircraft was a 25.20-28, so I can’t imagine anything that would use a 46.00-48 in the late Gilded Age.

      • Maybe the point was that, if they could make a functioning tire that size, they could handle anything you could throw at them.

  6. Can you imagine fixing a flat on one of those? Then pumping it up with one of the tire pumps of the era? Only 3psi, but how many cubic feet of air-and how many strokes of the pump—and if you have a helper be sure that he doesn’t get trapped inside. What a ride that would be!


    • At the drag strip, Top Fuel dragster tires have only 6 psi. The dragsters can run over 325 mph in less than 1/4 mile. Amazing what a little bit of air can do.

  7. In the very early 60’s we used brake fluid to “shine” our tires that we saved from brake jobs in the Sunoco station where I worked as a kid in High school.
    Pay was ninty five cents an hour .

    • I caddied 18 holes for $3.25 on Men’s & Woman’s Courses and $3.75 on Championship Course in ’63. Flat rate, tips optional. Hot dog & Coke included.

  8. Tractor in second photo looks like a Sterling from the hood louvre design and the right rear corner of the frame lined with wood, a Sterling feature.

  9. Okay: I looked at the picture of the modified Buick Busses: Each one of Them has : Wheel well spares of the correct balloon tire size for front “driving wheels” , — and rear dual – tired axles. I will assume that the other side’s front fender also had another wheel well spare. So: Why does each: “Giant fork-tine” have a smaller spare tire on it, – which is not designed for the buss’es axles? Is it to “show off” a car-sized tire? Perhaps. I see no apparatus to attach a trailer, but My guess is that : A “chase vehicle” goes along with this “Wheel” to prevent: “A bozo in a car” from encountering the huge wheel, from the rear, or side. Also: Note the high powered “Loud Speakers “only on the front vehicle. This would require the new: audio amplifying equipment . This also, (Speakers & Amplifiers) were developed in the Los Angeles area, for the new: “Talkie Movies” and Public Address systems (as shown). The JBL ( James B. Lansing) Sound Company on Casitas Avenue in our Atwater District was one of the original manufacturers of this equipment. The extra spares “might be” for the “Sound Equipment truck”, (another vehicle, with generator & Audio amplifiers?)

  10. In the first photo, it looks like the door handles have not been installed on the second and third doors yet. Also, given how wide the seams are on the other two doors, it seems odd there’s no visible seam at the rear of the third door.

  11. A.J. Musselman also developed one of the earliest (perhaps the first) aircraft brake, and many other things. However, he was best known as in the bicycle industry where he developed special racing tires, early balloon tires and the Musselman coaster brake that was made from the 1920s through the 1950s. The Musselman Hub Brake Company was located in Cleveland, Ohio. He also invented several other devices for cars and bicycles including trailers and a little car.

    His son, who was in the movie biz in Hollywood wrote a book about his father entitled “Wheels In His Head.” I have this book in my collection.

  12. In 1954 when I was 7 my father, a Sargent in the Air Force, took me out to the flight line at Rhine Main AFB Germany to see the Worlds Largest Airplane that landed there. The Convair C-99. Only one large tire on each side of the aircraft under the wing. The tire was taller than me on my fathers shoulders. 10 to 12ft ??

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