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Henry Ford’s Attempt to Bring the Airplane to the Masses – “The Flying Flivver”

Test pilot Harry Brooks poses with Flivver #2 on December 14, 1927. It was powered by a Ford-built two cylinder flat opposed engine.

Even as commercial aircraft grew increasingly larger and more powerful in the 1920’s, the idea of a compact aircraft that would be both affordable for the average working man and be easy for him to learn to fly hatched almost simultaneously all around the world. As early as 1920, Bernard Pietenpol in Minnesota and Henri Mignet in France, among others, were busy developing tiny, inexpensive fixed wing airplanes. Pietenpol’s efforts would culminate in the famous Air Camper, kits for which are still available to builders today and Mignet’s would give us a series of so called “Flying Fleas.”

In 1924, Ford Motor Company acquired the Stout Metal Airplane Company. They had some notable successes, most notably the Ford Tri-Motor which rolled out in 1926 and soon earned a worldwide reputation for ruggedness and reliability. Henry Ford himself was intrigued by the idea of a compact personal aircraft and engaged engineer Otto Koppen to design it. The result of that effort is seen here today.

This is Ford’s Flivver #1. It used an air cooled Anzani three cylinder radial engine. Two views (below) of the prototype with Will Rogers posing in the left hand photo. Rogers never actually flew the Flivver. The right hand photo shows how small the cockpit was.


The press called the single seat craft the “Model T of the Air,” but it was purely experimental. Ford would never mass produce it and abandoned the project after Brooks died in a crash while piloting a Flivver near Melbourne, Florida,in 1928. Ironically, the Pietenpol Air Camper would later successfully use a converted Ford Model “A” engine as the standard powerplant. Photos courtesy of  The Henry Ford Museum. Many other interesting photos from The Henry Ford  can also be seen here on The Old Motor.

3 responses to “Henry Ford’s Attempt to Bring the Airplane to the Masses – “The Flying Flivver”

  1. David, the 3rd prototype, Ford 1 Flivver #3, N3218, is in the collection of the Florida Air Museum at the Lakeland Linder Airport. According to Wikipedia, it’s the long wing version “built to win a long distance record for light planes” and is a two cylinder, horizontally opposed 40 hp engine, the same type of engine as powered the plane that Harry Brooks was killed in.

  2. Protype 2A is the only original protype remaining. This version tail number 268 is on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit.

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