The 1931 Stout Skycar, often referred to as a flying automobile, reflects William Stout's vision of a private aircraft that would be suitable for the average American. His hope was that it similarity to the automobile, easy flying characteristics, and affordability would attract the general public. Unfortunately, the timing of its introduction was at the height of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Its successor, the roadable Sky Car II, suffered a similar fate.
The National Air Museum initiated acquisition of the aircraft from the University of Detroit in the late 1940s and found that the entire fuselage, wing center section, and landing gear were missing. While available parts were shipped to the Museum's storage facility in Park Ridge, Illinois, Stout funded the building of replica parts by the General Metalcraft Company of Phoenix, Arizona. This restoration, completed in 1951, represents the Skycar in a later development phase.
The 1931 Stout Sky Car reflects William Stout's vision of a private aircraft that would be suitable for the average American. Stout was one of many aviation enthusiasts in the late 1920s and 1930s who felt that aviation should not be an exclusive club or form of transportation, but rather a part of everyday life. Along with others, he developed interesting but unrealistic ideas for the common man's airplane, ideas that were dashed by the Depression and the inherent differences between airplanes and automobiles. Although not a roadable aircraft, the Stout Sky Car I has been often referred to as a flying automobile because of the incorporated automobile characteristics.
Stout was the designer and manufacturer of the rugged line of aircraft that Ford Motor Company developed into the Ford Tri-Motor series of air transports (Stout Metal Airplane Company became a subsidiary of the Ford Motor Company). Stout's personal quest though was to make airplanes simple to operate and own. Automobile similarities and easy flying characteristics would attract the general public, and mass production of the design would make it almost as affordable as a car. The design of the front driver's/pilot's position incorporated a dashboard-mounted Ford key ignition lock and a floor-mounted self-starter button. It also had a floor-mounted hand operated emergency brake lever on the left hand side that operated the wheel brakes and could differentially operate them to control direction during landing and taxiing. The rudder pedals were similar to the car clutch and brake pedals. The well-upholstered two- place cabin was a tandem arrangement with an automobile-type door on the right side. The fuselage was supported by a modified short-coupled tricycle landing gear that placed the cabin floor a short step from the ground.
The Sky Car was an all-metal, high wing cabin monoplane that incorporated a fixed reverse tricycle landing gear. The pusher-mounted Rover four-cylinder 75 hp inline engine was at the aft end of the passenger nacelle with the fixed pitch wooden propeller rotating in an arc inside the welded steel-tube truss tail assembly support structure. Harold Morehouse designed the completely enclosed air-cooled Rover engine and the Michigan Aero-Engine Corporation built the engine to Morehouse's specifications. The engine and propeller location was intended to prevent people from inadvertently walking into the propeller plane. The tail-support boom extended several feet aft from the wing center section trailing edge and the tail assembly was mounted aft of the boom structure. The passenger fuselage, tail surfaces, wing center section and floating wing tip/aileron control surfaces were all covered with Stout's "trade-mark" beaded/corrugated aluminum skins similar to those used on the Ford Tri-motors. Initially a nose-mounted landing skid was mounted under the forward cabin keel area; later it was replaced by a wheel. Also in the first configuration, the lateral control was accomplished by rotating the entire wing tip on a lateral axis, but Stout later reverted to long-span ailerons. He also converted the entire wing to the beaded metal skin.
While specific performance figures are not available, it is estimated that the cruise speed was almost 100 mph and its very low wing loading provided very docile low speed characteristics for landing. Stout reported landing the Sky Car across the width of runways on many occasions and shocked Army Air Service officials during a demonstration at Wright Field where he landed on the parking apron in front of the hangar. Unfortunately the timing of its introduction was at the height of the great Depression of the 1930s and this doomed any chances of its acceptance by the buying public. Nonetheless, Stout continued his research and built the roadable Sky Car II, with hinged wings.
In 1938, Stout explored donating the Stout Sky Car to the Smithsonian but it was given to an aviation school. Eventually the University of Detroit acquired it in the late 1930s. Negotiations between Stout and Paul Garber of the National Air Museum were initiated in early 1948, and, when a condition survey was made in June, the entire fuselage, wing center section and landing gear were found to be missing. The engine with mount, propeller, outer wing panels and the complete tail assembly including the steel tube mounting booms were subsequently found. In the interest of preservation, all items were shipped to the Museum's storage facility at Park Ridge, Illinois. Stout, who was a member of the Smithsonian's Aviation Advisory Board, then funded the building of replica parts by the General Metalcraft Company of Phoenix, Arizona, and the original stored parts were shipped to Phoenix for the project.
The restoration represented the Sky Car in a later development phase, the Sky Car II, with conventional ailerons and beaded wing skins. Stout also installed a 5-cylinder Warner Scarab Jr. radial engine and a Hamilton Standard ground adjustable metal propeller. The cabin was equipped with more conventional aircraft controls, engine control quadrant and instruments. It no longer had the Model A ignition switch and foot starter button or the Model T style brake control. It was completed early in 1951 and was put on static display on May 20, 1951 at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona for its annual Armed Forces Day. It was then shipped to the Museum's Silver Hill Facility and accessioned on June 30, 1952.