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Waterman W-4 Arrowplane / W-5 Arrowbile

water-aero


In California, Waldo Waterman was working on a roadable version of his Whatsit tailless craft. Waterman had worked with Glenn Curtiss on the Autoplane in his early days, and the notion of roadable aircraft had stuck with him. He took the engine from a 1937 Studebaker Commander 6 automobile and built around it a compact, two-seat, tricycle-wheeled car/fuselage of steel tube and aluminium alloy. The water-cooled 100-hp engine was mounted above the rear wheels, which it drove through chain belts for forward movement and a friction clutch in reverse, while a pusher propeller was driven via six vee-belts which were tightened for flight by a clutch pulley. He named his machine the Arrowbile, and to make it more attractive and familiar to non-flying drivers he further cannibalized the Studebaker for the dashboard, seats and steering wheel, the last of which hung from the roof and controlled the aircraft's wing-tip-mounted elevons, rudders and the steerable nosewheel.

 

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The Arrowbile's wings housed all the machine's control mechanisms and could be detached or hooked up for flight in just three minutes. During tests it cruised at speeds in excess of 160 kph (100 mph) in the air and 72.5 kph (45 mph) on the ground. The Studebaker Cor­poration with an offer to sell Arrowbiles through their dealer network at $3,000 apiece. Waterman set up a factory in Santa Monica and started building five examples for Studebaker's salesmen to demonstrate throughout the United States. After the success of the Arrowplane (W-4), the engineer built the W-5, which had easily detachable wings, and a propeller. It could fly at 112 mph (180 kph) and drive at 56 mph (90 kph), thanks to its 100 hp Studebaker engine. The Arrowbile first flew in February 1937. Six aircraft were built, until 1957.

 

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The Arrowbile euphoria faded with the 1938 recession. Waterman found that each aircraft planned to sell for $3,000 was costing him $7,000 to build, and Studebaker pulled out of the deal. Before another backer could be found the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and it was not until 1948 that Waterman began work on his seventh, and final Arrowbile. He replaced the Stude-baker engine with a six-cylinder air-cooled Franklin, renamed it Aerobile, and donated the craft to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., where it remains.

 

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