By Fareed Guyot, Manager – Electronic Publications, EAA 388642
Molt Taylor's 1956 Model I Aerocar arrived at EAA this week and we didn't know where to park it - in the Vintage Aircraft parking area or the Blue Lot. We're calling it the first arrival at AirVenture even thought it arrived on a trailer, driven by Sean Sweeney, EAA 440574, and his two sons, Austin and Sean Jr. It is so far the only certified roadable aircraft to enter into production and the Sweeney's have serial number 4, which was the last ever produced. The aircraft was first acquired by Ed Sweeney (Sean's father) about 25 years ago and the family has made it their mission to keep it airworthy and show it to as many people as possible.
The Sweeney family is steeped in aviation. Ed and his wife, the late Sandra Sweeney, were both pilots, owned airplanes, and eventually went to A&P school. While at school Ed's other son Eric saw an ad for a Messerschmit in Trade-A-Plane and got really excited. When he showed the ad to Ed, all he saw was the ad for the Aerocar directly below it.
"He dropped everything he was doing, he sold everything he could, called the guy up, and told him I'm gonna be there on a flight tomorrow to buy the Aerocar - don't sell it to anyone else." Sean said of the moment his dad, Ed, decided to buy the Aerocar.
By that time Sean had already been through A&P school and he would go on to work for United Airlines for a time as a mechanic before starting his professional pilot career, which included a mix of charter and airline flying including some time in Alaska. Now Sean, who is based in Kissimmee, Florida, flies for himself, ferrying aircraft around the country and the Western Hemisphere. He just returned from ferrying a Globe Swift from Maine to Brazil last week. From there they finished the annual on the Aerocar, which winters at the Kissimmee Air Museum before loading it up for the trip up north.
Sean says the car is fun to fly - much like a Cessna 150 or 172, especially with a larger engine that wasn't featured on earlier copies of the aircraft. Serial number 4 is equipped with a Lycoming 0-360 rather than the O-320. Either way the aircraft was underpowered because of an odd carburetor placement on the engine due to the Aerocar design. The Sweeneys added fuel injection and now it produces 150-hp and that allows them to fly passengers.
The Aerocar has a longer direct-drive propeller shaft, which is rare for aircraft but is made possible by a "fluidic clutch," which tamps down vibrations from the engine. Belts extend below the propeller shaft to a drive shaft that runs to forward to a Crosley three-speed transmission that then attaches to a front axle differential, giving the car front-wheel drive.
It takes about 20 minutes to convert from car to airplane and 15 minutes back to a car. Sean says it usually takes an hour if there is a crowd since folks are full of questions. Maneuvering the vehicle takes some getting used to as it has a wheel-like yoke that moves the ailerons and wheels for steering on the ground. In the air the wheels still turn when banking, which can interfere with what the ailerons are trying to do. Sean says they make turns just using the rudder, which "turns the aircraft beautifully."
An early safety feature of the vehicle is that it has five hard points with microswitches that prevent the engine from being started until the three tail and two wing points are securely in place.
"All the controls are automatic. It's like rigging a modern sailplane. You virtually can't screw it up," said Sean, who is an instructor. He has much confidence in the vehicle and even soloed his son Austin on his 16th birthday last September.
The Aerocar will be on display during AirVenture Oshkosh 2011.
DATES: 2014: July 28-Aug. 3;
2015: July 27-Aug. 2