It seems if Ohio is the birthplace of aviation and flight that we should also give birth to some rather, well at least, different kinds of flying machines.
I speak of the “Inflatoplane” or as the Akron-based Goodyear Company officially named it, “GA-33.
It was an invention that some say was before it’s time, while others think it was more like re-inventing the Model T flivver.
What it was, was just what the name “Inflatoplane” implied. It was an airplane that could be inflated, blown up like an air mattress, or a swimming pool float. The idea was to make a light-weight airplane that could be used for military purposes, like rescuing downed fliers by dropping a package that contained an airplane to them by parachute, which then they could inflate, attach a motor that helped them inflate the plane and then use it to power the aircraft and fly themselves to safety.
The final product looked a lot like a giant version of those little inflatable airplanes on a stick that are sold to children at air-shows and carnivals. But the “Inflatoplane” had a wing-span about comparable to those little two-seater yellow airplanes that everyone used to learn to fly. The J3 Piper Cub.
Deflated the “Inflatoplane” could be folded into a self-contained package that looked like a large lumpy wheelbarrow. It took five minutes to inflate the aircraft, using less air pressure than in a single car tire. The whole thing weighed just 240 pounds, had a wing-span of 22 feet and a length of 19 feet, seven inches. It had a two-cycle engine (think Moped or small motor scooter), that put out forty horsepower. The craft had a twenty gallon fuel tank and was planned to be able to carry up 240 pounds
They started test-flights of the craft at Goodyear’s Wing Foot Lake Facility in Akron, Ohio in December of 1955. The tests also attracted the interest of the U. S. Army, who also sent pilots to Akron to be trained in flying the “Inflatoplane”. But while the idea was a good-one, there were a few problems. According to men who flew the craft, the inflated wings were unstable and had a tendency to flap, making control a bit difficult, if not frightening. Also the assembly took longer than expected, especially with people not familiar with the aircraft and finally it flew too slow and didn’t do well in strong winds.
A total of twelve of the “Inflatoplanes” were built and they continued testing them until 1972 when the project was finally scrapped. The Ohio Historical Society in Columbus has one of the actual planes as well as video footage showing the test flights. Sadly, the plane is in storage and not on display.
You can read about this and other strange inventions and people from the Buckeye State in my book, “Strange Tales From Ohio”, published by Gray & Co., Publishers, Cleveland. www.grayco.com