The U.S Navy’s Flying Platform, the closest thing to a magic carpet…
The U.S. Navy’s Flying Platform, sometimes referred to as the ‘flying skateboard’, was the worlds first aircraft to take the infamous hoverboard concept a reality. Of course, there was no Marty McFly back in those days, but the idea of man flying on a levitating platform is by no means a new one.
Hailed as the closest thing to a magic carpet, the Flying Platform was developed from a concept known as the ‘flying shoes’ – originally masterminded by renowned engineer for The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (N.A.C.A.), Charles H. Zimmerman.
Zimmerman proposed that a human’s natural balance would be sufficient to control a levitating platform – similar to how we balance a bike or surfboard. Charles coined the term “kinesthetic control,”
Building on this idea, the Hiller Advanced Research Division (A.R.D.) began constructing a five foot fiberglass round wing aircraft with twin counter rotating coaxial propellers powered by two 44hp/4000 rpm, four Nelson H-59 Engines.
Utilizing the Bernoulli principle, 40% of the vehicle’s lift was generated by air moving over the ducted fan’s leading edge. The remaining 60% of lift was generated by thrust from the counter rotating propellers.
On the 17th September 1953 Hiller Helicopters signed a contract with the Office of Naval Research’s Naval Sciences Division (ONR) to further develop Alexander Satin’s ducted-fan research and Charles Zimmerman’s “kinesthetic” theories. The project was handed over to the A.R.D at Hiller Aircraft and began in January 1954. Just 9 months later the team delivered the first prototype of the Flying Platform model 1031.
The first flight of the Flying Platform took place on the 27th January 1955, and entered the record books as the first time man had flown a ducted fan vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft.
Hiller publicly unveiled the aircraft in 1955, and one year later received an army contract to develop two larger models. These variations were designated the VZ-1 Pawnee.
The VZ-1 Pawnee’s were 8 feet in diameter, 7 feet high and weighted 180lbs. The new design required the installation of a third Nelson engine installed but the added weight made it difficult for the pilot to control the craft. In attempt to counter the problem, Hiller then developed Pawnee VZ-1E – a modified variation with a longer duct skirt.
A total of 6 flying platform’s were developed, the ONR variation is on exhibit at the Hiller Aviation Museum, and the National Air & Space Museum has a VZ-1 Pawnee that is currently on loan to the Pima Air & Space Museum, but the locations of the remaining aircraft are unknown.