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Waterman W-5 Arrowbile



Waterman had worked with Glenn Curtiss on the Autoplane in his early days, and the notion of roadable aircraft had stuck with him. The W-4 Arrowplane was not intended for production or to be roadable, but its success in the Vidal competition encouraged Waterman to form the Waterman Arrowplane Co. in 1935 for production of a roadable version. The resulting Arrowbile, referred to by Waterman as the W-5, was similar both structurally and aerodynamically to the Arrowplane, though the fins differed in shape, with rounded leading edges and swept-back rudder hinges. For road use the wings and propeller could be quickly detached. The main other differences were in engine choice, the need to drive the wheels and to use conventional car floor-type controls on the road. The air-cooled Menasco was replaced by a water-cooled 6-cylinder engine as used by most cars. Waterman modified a 1937 Studebaker Commander 6 upright, 100 hp (75 kW) Studebaker unit and placed it lower down in the pod, driving the propeller shaft at the top of the fuselage. The water cooled 100 hp engine was mounted above the rear wheels, which it drove through chain belts with a 1.94:1 speed reduction 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. The radiator was in the forward fuselage, fed from a duct opening in the extreme upper nose. On the ground the engine drove the main wheels through a differential gear, as normal, and the car was steered by its nosewheel. The wheels were enclosed in fairings, initially as a road safety measure. Instead of removing the propeller for the road, it could be de-clutched to prevent it windmilling the engine at speed.
Waterman built a compact, two seat, tricycle wheeled car/fuselage of steel tube and aluminium alloy. The wheel in the two-seat cabin controlled the Arrowbile both on the road and in the air. Outer wing elevons moved together to alter pitch and differentially to bank. The rudders, interconnected with the elevons when the wheel was turned, moved only outwards, so in a turn only the inner rudder was used, both adjusting yaw as normal and assisting the elevon in depressing the inner wing tip. This system had been used on the Arrowplane as a safety feature to avoid the commonly fatal spin out of climb and turn from take-off accident but the raked rudder hinge of the Arrowbile provided the banking component even from a nose-down attitude. There were no conventional flaps or wing mounted airbrakes but the rudders could be operated as brakes by opening them outwards together with a control independent of the wheel. The cabin interior was designed to motor car standards, with easy access and a baggage space under the seats.
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 wingtip mounted elevons, rudders and the steerable nosewheel.




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 on 21 February 1937, making it a close contemporary of the Gwinn Aircar, and a second prototype with a number of minor modifications followed. Studebaker were interested in the Arrowbile because of the use of their engine and ordered five. The third Arrowbile was the first of this order. The Arrowbile euphoria faded with the 1938 recessionwith no more production aircraft completed. The production aircraft had several changes, some of which aimed to emphasise the similarities with cars; there was a radiator grille with a single headlight centrally above it and also car type doors and petrol filler cap.
Stall- and spin-proof, its simplicity of operation was underscored when DoC's John Geisse, with only 35 hours' flight experience, flew one back to Washington DC in his business suit.
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 N54P. He replaced the Stude­baker engine with a Tucker auto engine (Franklin converted to liquid-cooled), renamed it Aerobile, and donated the craft to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., where it remains.
The three built were NX262Y, NR16332, and NR18932, and three more were finished in 1939. Waldo Waterman built six W-5 Arrowbiles and called them #1 through #6, which did not correspond with their c/ns. Waterman tells in his memoirs that #1, #2, and #3 were completed in 1937 and flown to Cleveland for an appearance during the races. On the way, #1 was damaged in a forced landing in Arizona and was transported back to the Santa Monica, but the others made it.
The 1938 register says:
NX262Y Waterman W-5; c/n #2; Waterman Studebaker 100hp.
NR18931 Waterman W-5A; c/n #3; Waterman Studebaker 100hp.
NR18932 Waterman W-5A; c/n #4; Waterman Studebaker 100hp.
These must be #1, #2 and #3.
Arrowbile #4 was modified, probably on Waldo's "assembly line," to a non-roadable version with the wing from #1, and retaining the Studebaker engine. Called #4/1, it was probably N262Y.




In July 1938, Waterman was hospitalized with a ruptured appendix, and it took him a year to fully recover. In 1940, he bought back #4/1 from Studebaker, who owned it. Register of 2/15/41, has:
NX262Y Waterman W-6; Waterman Studebaker 81G 100hp. No c/n.
In 1941, he installed an air-cooled 120hp Franklin in #4/1 and, in 1943, fitted slotted flaps. Later he revised the #5 wings into a one-piece cantilever wing and fitted that to old faithful #4. The #5 fuselage became a test rig to try out a tail rotor system for a Convair helicopter. The parts for #6 were re-worked after the war to become Aerobile N54P with a water-cooled Tucker-Franklin engine.
Engine: Studebaker Commander 6, 100hp pusher
Max speed: 120 mph
Cruise speed: 105 mph
Max road speed: 70 mph
Seats: 2-3









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