Aerocar Flies On
By Tom Snow
Courtesy of EAA, AirVenture
It REALLY flies! Really! The rare Taylor Aerocar flies like an airplane and drives like a car—once you land and separate the one- piece wing-and-tail combination. Photo by Dave Higdon

Molt Taylor’s dream of a practical flying car lives on. The current keeper of the flame, Ed Sweeney, has been flying Taylor’s vintage 1956 Aerocar at AirVenture all week, plus he’s currently developing a modern version based on a Lotus Elise sports car.

It would seem that Sweeney was destined to carry on for Taylor, a well-known experimental aircraft designer who died in 1995. Taylor developed his first flying car in 1949.

In 1959, when a young Sweeney was looking for a place to fly model planes, he ended up at Taylor’s private airstrip in Longview, Washington. He and Taylor quickly struck up a friendship, and it wasn’t long until Taylor gave Sweeney his first flying lesson in the left seat of the Aerocar he now owns today. His is the only Aerocar still flying. Four other examples of Taylor’s flying car, which never went into production, are in museums.

Sweeney and the Aerocar would not be reunited until 1988, when he spotted an ad in Trade-A-Plane. By then he was living in Black Forest, Colorado. “I literally ran to the phone to call the owner,” said Sweeney. “If it could be made airworthy, I knew I had to have it.”

Taylor sold this particular Aerocar, Serial No. 4, to TV actor Bob Cummings, who owned it from 1960 to 1965. A suave ladies’ man, Cummings often used his Aerocar to fly from Van Nuys to Palm Springs, California. Passengers included Marilyn Monroe and Lana Turner. 

The Aerocar then progressed through four more owners, none of whom actually flew it. An owner in Illinois, who had a chain of hamburger stands, used the Aerocar in parades for publicity. His sons also drove the car to high school everyday, minus the detachable wings. It was then stored in a building that collapsed on it.

Photo by Dave Higdon

“That this Aerocar survived is amazing,” said Sweeney. “We had to rebuild the tail and replace the leading edges of the wings.” Both Sweeney and his wife, Sandra, are A & P mechanics, and they’ve owned other interesting planes,such as a Messerschmitt 209. 

Sweeney loves to demonstrate his Aerocar, which he describes as easy to fly, although underpowered. The 180-hp Lycoming 0-360 only produces 120 hp in the Aerocar due to an inefficient air intake system. It takes off at 50 mph and cruises at 90. Sweeney trailers the Aerocar to air shows. 

“You fly this plane with the rudder pedals and trim control,” explains Sweeney. “It’s very stable and makes nice turns with rudder only. The steering wheel controls the ailerons and the front wheels. After landing, the wings can be detached and towed behind the car like a trailer. When used on the road, the engine powers the front wheels instead of the pusher prop.

“People love to see me put it in reverse and back up on the runway,” said Sweeney, who predicts his Aerocar will end up in the Smithsonian someday. For now, it’s on display on the flight line near the big arch north of air show center.

Ed Sweeney, owner of the historically significant 1956 Molt Taylor Aerocar, hopes to soon make some aviation history of his own by developing a modern and practical flying car based on a 1,430-pound, two-seat Lotus Elise. 

“We’re about two years away from flying,” says Sweeney. “The Lotus is the ideal car to use for this project. It’s a current production model, and it comes from the factory with an aluminum frame, aerodynamic fiberglass body, and completely enclosed belly pan. The Lotus factory in England has been very supportive; they will begin selling the Elise in the United States next year.”

To save 200 pounds, the car’s original engine has been replaced with a 3-cylinder engine and transmission combination from a Chevrolet Sprint. Rather than trying to use this small engine to power the car in flight, a twin-turbo Lotus 350-hp V8 will be installed in a separate “flight module,” which will be connected to the car before flight via six pinned attach points. 

In addition to the powerful engine and tractor prop, the flight module includes a set of wings and the tail. Unlike the original Aerocar, these wings are not designed to be towed behind the car on the road. Sweeney envisions storing the flight module at the airport and sharing it with several other flying car owners. Sweeney has the actual car and a scale model of the flight module on display beside the original Aerocar.

Everyone dreams of getting above the freeway and out of traffic, and Sweeney claims that there is renewed interest in flying cars by Detroit automakers. Be sure to get the video, here at! 

This story and all content, logos, pictures, and videos are the property of EAA  Copyright © 2002 

videos_aerocar.gif (10100 bytes)Aerocar: Giving the Automobile Its Wings
Produced in cooperation with designer/inventor Moulton B. "Molt" Taylor, this video features rare test flight footage, interviews, scale models, drawings, significant photographs and press clippings of all four models of the AEROCAR - the "roadable" airplane. 
Item #SBVCAR   $10.00

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