The Avrocar Story - By Bill Zuk


The Avro Canada VZ-9AV "Avrocar" designed by company Chief Designer John Frost was a true flying saucer that was produced for the U.S.A.F. and U.S. Army in the period1958-1959. In earlier research, Frost had discovered the "Coanda Effect" provided a powerful ground cushion envisioned as being the basis for a vehicle that could have both have VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) capabilities and could still operate as a high-performance aircraft. Avro Canada and the Canadian government provided the initial funding for Frost's work 1952- 1953. He combined all of his innovative technology into a disc shape which had been chosen as the most efficient aerodynamic shape and to simplify structural requirements for a circular hovering platform.

Frost continued to lobby for the project now called the Project Y-2 and achieved a remarkable breakthrough by demonstrating the project to the United States Air Force in 1954.With funding from the both the U.S.A.F. and later the U.S. Army, Frost proceeded with his design. From 1955 to1959, the design team concentrated on the new VZ-9AV "Avrocar" as a "proof of concept" vehicle for a concurrent supersonic fighter development program first known as Project 1794 and later Weapon System 606A. An Avro- funded project of similar capability known as the P.V.704 was also initiated in 1957 as a means to speed up development of the supersonic programs.

As a part of the USAF Weapons Systems 606A project which was the final derivative of a series of USAF-funded VTOL projects, the Avrocar acted as a proof-of-concept vehicle. To satisfy the later sponsoring body, the U.S. Army, in its requirements for a "Flying Jeep", the VZ-9AV acted a prototype for an upcoming series of vehicles known as "Avromobiles".

The VZ-9AV Avrocar research vehicle used three Continental J-69's1025 lbs, thrust (licence-built Turbomeca Marboré) turbojets, turning a central impeller ("turbo rotor") to keep it airborne with downward thrust, with a vane/shutter system to propel the craft in any direction by venting thrust in the direction the pilot desired. A pilot and observer sat in separate cockpits on either side of the disc, facing forward. The total diameter of the Avrocar was 6.2 m., with wheels and later tricycle landing pads for an undercarriage.

After completing a wooden mock-up in 1957-58, two Avrocar prototypes were constructed, the first, S/N #58-7055 in FY 1958 and the second, S/N #59-4975 in FY1959. The first prototype completed a series of wind tunnel tests at NASA Ames in California and the second vehicle undertook a test flying program based at the Malton, Ontario home of Avro Canada. Between June 9 and October 7,1959, the first vehicle underwent a thirty-two-hour static rig test at Avro in Malton, Ontario. This prototype was then sent to the NASA Ames wind tunnel for full-scale wind tunnel tests commencing in April 1960. A second round of wind tunnel testing commenced in April 1961. Rare film footage exists of the Avrocar project which includes design and construction of both aircraft, wind tunnel tests, and many of the tethered and free flight tests. The first free-flight test, conducted on the second vehicle, occurred on November 12, 1959 with company test pilot "Spud" Potocki at the helm, with additional tests made in January 1960 and in the period July 1960- June 1961 for a total of approximately 75 hours. The final flight test program was completed by USAF Project pilot, Major Walter J. Hodgson; additional flights had been made in March 1960 by NASA Ames test pilot, Fred J. Drinkwater III.

The results of the testing revealed a stability problem and degraded performance due to turbo-rotor tolerances. Before modifications could be achieved, funding ran out with the final flight test program completed in March 1961. With the problems that the contractor was facing in the wake of the cancellation of its premier fighter program, the Avro CF-105 Arrow by the Canadian government, Avro Canada was unable to continue the project on its own. In late 1960, Avro had redesigned the VZ-9AV Avrocar with a pair of J-85 turbojets, a larger turborotor of improved performance and a wing/tailet configuration married to the central disc platform. Although this proposal may have solved the Avrocar's deficiencies in stabilization and performance, the U.S. military felt that the aircraft even in a revamped form did not merit continued development. In December 1961, the Avrocar and related VTOL programs were officially completed as the U.S. military rejected new company redesigns and halted any further research efforts. The Avrocar had been the last aviation program of Avro Canada.

The parent company, A. V. Roe Canada, which had been in throes of disintegration for years ceased to exist on April 30, 1962 .

Both Avrocars are still intact, and survive in U.S. museums. The U.S. Army Transportation Museum at Fort Eustis, Virginia received the second Avrocar, the "flying" prototype, #59-4975 from the U.S. Army Aviation Materials Laboratories at Fort Eustis, Virginia in 1979. It is presently on pylon display at an entranceway to the museum.

The first Avrocar, S/N #58-7055, the unmanned test rig and wind tunnel test vehicle marked as AV-7055 was never flown. It was shipped to the NASA Ames Research Center wind tunnel at Moffett Field, California in 1960. After wind tunnel testing, it remained for years in storage at the NASA facility before being donated to the National Air and Space Museum in 1966. AV-7055 is stored in Building 22 of the NASM Paul E. Garber storage and restoration Facility, in Silver Hills (Suitland), Maryland.

Today, the unrestored Avrocars or "flying saucers" as they are referred to at both the NASM and U.S. Army Transportation Museum are mainly neglected and relegated to objects of historical curiosity or oddity.

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