Lunch in the Isle of Wight? Let’s take the old Aerocar for a spin

The Land-plane, a variant of the Portsmouth Aerocar, at Portsmouth Airport in an artists impression taken from a sales brochure.
The Land-plane, a variant of the Portsmouth Aerocar, at Portsmouth Airport in an artists impression taken from a sales brochure.
Opening of the new school by the home secretary in October 1927. The headmaster, Canon Barton, is on the lowest step, on the left. Dorothea Barton is possibly there, somewhere. (PGS Archive)

NOSTALGIA: A red bluestocking at Portsmouth Grammar School

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Is it a car? Is it a plane? No, it’s the Portsmouth Aerocar.

As promised last week, here’s a more detailed look at the invention which has just had the 70th anniversary its first flight from Portsmouth Airport.

The pilots view from the cockpit of the Portsmouth Aerocar  taken from a sales brochure for the aircraft.

The pilots view from the cockpit of the Portsmouth Aerocar  taken from a sales brochure for the aircraft.

The Portsmouth Aviation Company’s Portsmouth Aerocar emerged in the immediate post-war period as a versatile, multi-role light general aviation aircraft.

The ideas for the Aerocar originated from the managing director of Portsmouth Aviation, Lionel Balfour, about 70 years ago during the latter stages of the Second World War.

He had anticipated that after the war the commercial aviation industry would be faced with a shortage of aircraft.

The Aerocar was envisaged as being suitable for re-instating the sort of air service operated by his company, Portsmouth Southsea and Isle of Wight Aviation, across the Solent between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight in the 1930s and could also be easily adapted for a number of roles.

The team at Portsmouth Aviation that built the Aerocar, photo courtesy of Christopher Balfour.

The team at Portsmouth Aviation that built the Aerocar, photo courtesy of Christopher Balfour.

The Aerocar concept was conceived, developed and promoted by Lionel Balfour with much of the design being the responsibility of fellow director Flt Lt Francis Luxmoore.

The design took the form of a high wing, twin engine, twin boom configuration with an under-slung fuselage pod that could be tailored for a number of different roles without affecting the basic design.

Key aspects of the design were its practicality, versatility and simplicity.

The prototype, Aerocar Major, registration number G-AGTG, was flown from Portsmouth Airport in the late afternoon of June 18, 1947. It was conducted by Mr Luxmoore in the absence of chief test pilot Alan Jones.

Although the prototype was under-powered the Portsmouth Aerocar appeared to be set for a successful future.

Although the prototype was under-powered the Portsmouth Aerocar appeared to be set for a successful future.

The aircraft was powered by two Cirrus Major engines each giving 155hp.

The Aerocar Major had a number of novel features including a fuselage pod and twin boom arrangement, retractable undercarriage and variable pitch propellers. The aircraft was offered in a variety of roles as a land-plane, float plane and ski versions.

Lionel Balfour had ideas for a version to be used by the army and a brochure was drawn up by the company about 1945 when Aerocar design work was starting.

Plans had been made to put the Aerocar into production at the Airspeed factory at Christchurch. Its future depended on an agreement for licence manufacture in India.

But the deal collapsed as a result of internal troubles arising from the partitioning of India as part of India gaining independence.