By the latter half of the 1920s, as interest in general aviation began to take off, it was almost expected of Henry Ford to offer a simple and inexpensive airplane for the masses, just as he did with the Model T. However, while his engineers did indeed develop such a plane, Ford’s ideas about aviation tended to be more esoteric, as we can see from the 10-propeller diesel plane he proposed in 1930.

Ford’s brief aeronautic quest might best be associated with William Bushnell Stout and the Ford Tri-Motor these days, maybe even the never-produced Sky Flivver (or, if you will, the Willow Run bomber plant and the assembly line production of B-24s), but his patent filings during that time reveal greater ambitions, mostly involving opposed-piston engines.

In 1927, a year after the introduction of the Tri-Motor, Ford first proposed the engine configuration for aircraft purposes (US1749578), noting that the engine’s slim proportions allow it to be installed “within the lines of the wing” and that, because an opposed-piston engine has dual crankshafts, it would afford the opportunity for two synchronized propellers “installed on the wings adjacent to each other.” As if that weren’t enough, Ford then envisioned the opposed-piston engines—one per wing—each turning a third vertical propeller via bevel gears; as Ford described the proposed plane’s operation, the vertical propellers would provide the lift and the horizontal propellers the thrust, possibly making the plane a VTOL aircraft.

If it sounds unfeasible, that’s because it pretty much was, according to L.S. Sheldrick, a Ford employee at the time. As he recalled,

In 1928 the airplane activity was rather hot and Mr. Ford had some rather novel ideas about aircraft and he had an engine laid out, several various arrangements. They were opposed piston engines with multiple crankshafts, which drove propellers that would act in the horizontal direction as well as propellers in the vertical direction. His idea was that one set of propellers would do the lifting and take the plane off the ground while the horizontal set of propellers gave the forward effort.

This engine of 1928 was made using a lot of the tractor engine parts – pistons, connecting rods, axle housing parts used to support the propeller shafts. It was really, to use a slang term, a terrible abortion. It had absolutely no chance of ever getting off the ground.

It was really a demonstration of principle and arrangement. If the thing had ever reached the point where they tried to take it off the ground it would have had to be put in lightweight form aircraft construction type engine. It was just a bunch of heavy junk. That’s all it was but it did demonstrate a principle to Mr. Ford’s satisfaction.

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