The Avrocar was the brainchild of maverick aircraft designer Jack Frost. Frost worked with the British aeronautical firm de Havilland during World War II. He pioneered research into supersonic travel and other advanced concepts. In 1947, he signed on with the Canadian-based aviation company Avro Canada, eventually forming a close-knit team of renegade researchers who called themselves the Special Projects Group (SPG). The alone is enough to send conspiracy buffs into a tizzy. Adding to the organization’s mystery is the fact that it worked on highly experimental aircraft designs.
Frost and his colleagues in the SPG envisioned a new way of channeling engine thrust, one that would make jet-powered vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft practical. In the 1950s, both Canadian and American officials considered nuclear war with the Soviets a real possibility. In a scenario in which most airfields would be destroyed by atomic bombs, military planners regarded the development of VTOL aircraft a top priority.
Frost’s team felt that the answer to developing such airplanes lay in taking advantage of the Coanda effect, in which pressurized air can flow over the top of a disk-shaped craft, causing it to hover above the ground. The researchers also believed that such a craft would be stable at both sub and supersonic speeds. This would give her the nation in possession of these vehicles unquestioned technical superiority over its enemies.
Despite the potential rewards of this research, Canadian defense authorities passed on Frost’s design in favor of other projects. Never one to give up easy, the designer captured the attention of US officials when they visited Avro Canada’s facilities in 1953.
Intrigued by his proposal, the U.S. Air Force took over funding of the Special Projects Group, awarding the clandestine organization a $750,000 grant in 1955.Avro Canada followed up with a $2.5 million investment of its own the following year.
With substantial funds invested in the effort, officials pressured Frost and his people to produce results. In 1957, they offered the USAF a proof-of-concept engine. Unfortunately, testing of the prototype didn’t go quite as planned. The engine leaked oil and caused fires.
To avoid their own deaths, team members built a reinforced steel booth in which to test the device. Despite these safeguards, their prototype was simply too powerful to control. Funders began to lose interest when Frost proposed building a scaled-back model that eventually became the Avrocar.
The Avrocar is as close to building a flying saucer as terrestrial scientists have ever come. It consists of a disk 18 feet in diameter and 3 ½ feet thick. At its center is a rotor powered by three Continental J69-T-9 jet engines. Designed for a crew of two, it was built so that the pilot can operate the craft with a single control stick.
Frost, who was an excellent salesman, promised his invention would travel hundreds of miles per hour, reach an altitude of 10,000 feet, and have a range of nearly 1,000 miles. As with most of his predictions, however, reality came up short. Aerodynamic forces caused the craft to pitch back and forth wildly during ascent. The Special Projects Group tried multiple ways to correct this problem, but to no avail.
In its final version, the Avrocar’s actual top speed was 35 miles an hour, its range was closer to 80 miles, and it could rise about three feet above ground before it destabilized. Efforts to rescue the project continued until late 1961, when the government finally pulled the plug.
Despite its dismal record, the Avrocar is a helluva sight. In fact, you can see one of the two prototypes on public display at the Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. If you didn’t know better, you might swear that you were looking at a real spacecraft. And that, dear readers, is the truth about the military’s flying saucer project – or so say the official sources.
Photo Credit: Ted Miley