If you're an army aviator, the least you'd expect out
of your trusty aircraft is a bit of metal surrounding
you - giving at the very least a false impression of safety.
Therefore your can only imagine how relieved US Army pilots
were when they found out the Goodyear Inflatoplane wasn't
going to be entering service.
Essentially the Inflatoplane was exactly what the name
implied. It was an inflatable, easily transportable light
airplane designed for observation use.
Once the Inflatoplane had been delivered to its operational
area, the crew hooked it up to an air compressor, waited
for it to inflate, started up the 60 horsepower McCulloch
engine, said their prayers, wrote their wills, and took
to the skies.
There were 12 examples of the Inflatoplane built during
the late 50s and early 60s - although amazingly development
of the aircraft continued right up until 1973!
There were two types of Inflatoplane: One version was
a single seater, while the other had room for two occupants.
Sadly, during one of the test flights Lt. "Pug"
Wallace was killed. The aircraft was in a descending turn
when one of the control cables under the wing came off
the pulley and became wedged in the pulley bracket, locking
the joystick. The turn continued to tighten until one
of the wings folded up over the prop and was chopped up.
With the wings flailing uselessly because of air loss,
one of the aluminum wing tip skids hit Wallace on the
side of his head - this was determined from marks on his
helmet. Wallace was then thrown out over the nose of the
Inflatoplane and fell into the shallow lake below. His
parachute never opened. Crash investigators believe he
may have been knocked unconscious and unable to open it.
In the end the project was abandoned after Army generals
realised just how vulnerable the aircraft, and its pilot,
were to absolutely any kind of enemy fire. It's just a
shame it took them 17 years of development before they
figured that out.