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The Fleetwings Model 51 "Kaiser-Craft"

Stargazer2006

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Entrepreneur extraordinaire Henry J. Kaiser always had a thing with wings. Although his various commercial activities met with success, somehow aviation never seemed to work.Through his various partnership, he always hoped to find the aircraft everybody was hoping for and make a big success of it. However, it never worked out.

Whether with Howard Hughes (the humongous Hughes-Kaiser HK-1 or Hughes H-4 Hercules, better known by its nickname "the Spruce Goose"), with Dean Hammond (the four-seat Y-2 Aircar, an improvement on the pre-war Stearman-Hammond Y-1 safety car, which he hoped would be every family's dream of airplane in the postwar years), when he acquired the Fleetwings company (with a failed helicopter program and his would be "Victory Plane" for the Navy that remained a prototype) or when he acquired the Chase company (not much of a bargain, since Fairchild got the C-123 contracts, and Stroukoff left and took his designs with him) — throughout all these failed associations Kaiser showed a sharp interest in aviation that unfortunately for him never paid off. The Hercules flying boat was obsolete by the time it was ready, the Aircar (like so many great private airplanes developed in the mid-forties) failed to find customers because of the outpour of reformed military types, the Twirleybird had nothing on whatever Sikorsky or Bell could put out, and the Navy's BTK came too late in the war to make any kind of impact, one more in a sad series of military contracts that went far enough in their development but never materialized (Army XA-39, 200-ton bomber and cargo flying wings, canceled XH-10T anti-sub helo for the British Government, not to mention the naval rescue/utility variant of the Twirleybird, a naval dive bomber design and a fighter design that were all rejected).

What kind of aviation niche was there left for Kaiser to explore, and perhaps make some profit on? Whoever thought the Fleetwings Model 51 design might be the next big thing for Kaiser was sadly misguided. Conceived around an Chevrolet inline six-cylinder ("Straight-6") engine (the 200-hp Model GM-250 radial, largely unproven in aviation), the Kaiser-Craft, an all-metal personal plane was a radical departure from anything that existed, "an entirely new concept in aviation – four passengers side-by-side." Seriously? From the tail up to the windshield, and from a distance, the Model 51 was not so different from the Ercoupe and other twin tail designs. But the combination of a very wide cockpit and the narrow engine cowling extending very far forward gave the design a most ungainly appearance, despite the (unpublished) brochure's claims that "aerodynamic advances have brought [flying] within the reach of the average person." Likely the drawbacks of seating four side-by-side far outweighed the advantages from an aerodynamic viewpoint. Besides, claiming it to be "a plane that any physically and mentally normal person can learn to fly" may not be the most efficient argument to convince a potential customer.

At any rate, someone must have pulled the alarm while there was time and debunked the whole thing as a stinker, because the project never took off. And apart from another failed proposal to the Navy in the late 1950s (the KD-161 LOH candidate developed jointly with Doman), the Kaiser-Craft was to be the last aviation project1 to emerge from the Fleetwings division, renamed Kaiser Metal Products in 1948 and finally dissolved in 1962.

1. The XH-10T Twirleybird (not a U.S. military designation) was once thought to be the Model 52, but its place in the Fleetwings chronology (1944) shows this was likely a typo, perhaps for Model 42, which would fit nicely.

NOTE: The images below, taken from the source page, all come from a prototype brochure that was never published.

Written by S. Beaumort ("Skyblazer")
Main source: https://kaiserpermanentehistory.org/tag/kaiser-hammond-aircraft/
 

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  • from draft 'Fly with Fleetwings Kaiser-Craft' promotional brochure (never produced), circa 1950.jpg
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hesham

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Wow,nice find my dear Skyblazer,

and this series was up to KD-161 helicopter Project.
 

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