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FORD-EAA CHAPTER 159 FLIVVER – 268

Henry Ford envisioned the Flivver as the “everyman’s airplane,” a counterpart to his ubiquitous Model T automobile. He even specified that the plane be small enough to fit inside his office. The aircraft was designed by young aeronautical engineer Otto Koppen in 1926, and he obliged Ford by first measuring the dimensions of Ford’s office. The airplane had an all-wood wing and fuselage with a welded tubular steel empennage. The steel landing gear was fastened to the wing and used rubber doughnuts in compression for shock absorption. Power was supplied by a 3 cylinder 35 hp Anzani air-cooled engine. The Flivver was revealed to the public on July 31, 1926, Henry Ford’s 63rd birthday. Several days later, Charles Lindbergh had the distinction of being the only pilot other than Ford’s chief pilot, Harry Brooks, to fly the Flivver.

Brooks grew up in Southfield, Michigan and became interested in aviation at age nine after seeing the Wright Brothers and one of their airplanes at a state fair. He eventually managed to get flying lessons at a local airstrip, where he was observed on several occasions by none other than Henry Ford. Among his other jobs, Brooks’ father played the violin at dances at a local inn. During a visit to the inn, Henry Ford inquired about who was playing the violin. The two met, and the elder Brooks invited Ford home for dinner. It was there that Ford learned that Harry Brooks was the person he had seen flying at the nearby airfield. Ford hired Harry to work in one of his auto plants. Several months later, Ford gave Harry a job as a test pilot. Though still very young, Harry Brooks soon became Ford’s top pilot, as well as a close friend.

The Flivver’s versatility was demonstrated on several occasions by Harry Brooks. He used the first model of the aircraft to commute daily from his home to the Ford laboratories. Later, Brooks used the second Flivver to move about the Ford properties, much as a college student might use a car or motorbike to get around campus. The Flivver was ideal for getting in and out of tight places. In February of 1928, Brooks set out on a non-stop flight from Dearborn, Michigan to Miami, Florida in the improved second model of the Flivver. Brooks was forced to land on the beach near Titusville, Florida due to a fuel leak. Though he fell short of Miami, he did set a new world distance record for light planes at 972 miles. Four days later, Brooks attempted to complete his journey to Miami. Unfortunately, the aircraft crashed into the Atlantic Ocean after apparently experiencing engine trouble. The plane wreckage was recovered, but Brooks’ body was never found. Henry Ford was so discouraged by this tragedy that he halted development of the Flivver. The prototype Flivver was placed in the Ford Museum in Dearborn later that year.

Ed Kitzman of the Saginaw Valley EAA Chapter 159 based in Midland, Michigan conceived the idea of building a replica of Henry Ford’s answer to the “everyman’s airplane”. Jackie Yoder was one of the leaders of the project and also designed the custom trailer for hauling the replica to EAA Headquarters. Ed Yoder, Jackie’s father, was the general handyman and hoist operator.

With no published plans to go by, the Saginaw Valley bunch had to scrounge for measurements and details in order to build the replica Flivver. Many trips were made to the Ford Museum, even though the original Flivver was hanging high in the air and officials would not allow the machine to be lowered to the floor for examination. Many exceedingly clever and ingenious ideas were employed to come up with the near correct measurements and the many details of the airplane. They were even able to bring in the Flivver’s original designer, Otto Koppen, to give advice on the project.

A gallant effort on the part of the Chapter 159 team was put forth to make their Flivver airworthy, but the Anzani engine they had would not cooperate. With extreme regret, the chapter members decided on a static display Flivver. The engine was cleaned up externally to look almost like a new one. The final touch was a new mahogany propeller capped with an aluminum spinner.

After five years of consistent work by the entire Saginaw Valley Chapter, the replica Ford Flivver was ready to make the trip to Oshkosh. In June of 1991, Jackie, Ed Yoder, and Ed Kitzman delivered the Flivver to the EAA AirVenture Museum where it now has an honored place in aviation history.

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