Of course Goodyear is famous for tires and for rubber products like hoses, belts, gaskets and, of course, the Goodyear Blimp. What you may not have known, though, is that Goodyear also had a history of manufacturing aircraft.
During the WWII years, there was an all-out push to equip the military with the latest weaponry, in the greatest numbers possible. Consumer goods were largely cut off, while companies were awarded contracts to produce weapons that were far outside of their normal product lines. For instance, National Cash Register, Rock-Ola, International Harvester, IBM and General Motors all produced thousands and thousands of copies of the M-1 rifle. By the early 1940s, Goodyear was awarded a contract to produce the F4U Corsair fighter plane for the Navy. The plane’s original manufacturer, Chance Vought, was soon overwhelmed by the demand for the aircraft, and production was subbed out to Brewster and Goodyear.
The Corsair soon proved to be one of the most lethal fighter planes of the war. Its 2,000 horsepower engine was one of the largest fitted to any fighter plane; the Corsair was fast, tough, maneuverable and heavily armed with six .50 caliber machine guns. In the hands of capable Marine and Navy pilots, it achieved a kill ratio of 11:1 over Japanese aircraft in the Pacific Theater, earning it the nickname “Whistling Death” by the Japanese. Over 12,000 copies of the Corsair were built, with many thousands built in Goodyear’s Akron, OH plant. Not only was the Corsair vital to the outcome of WWII, it served well into the Korean War in a fighter-bomber or ground attack role; its powerful engine and robust airframe enabled it to carry heavy loads of bombs and rockets. This versatile Goodyear product saw service with the air arms of Britain, France, New Zealand, Algeria and others, with its last combat engagement in 1979. Today, 28 Corsairs are still airworthy.
Goodyear also produced the Duck, a small, light seaplane designed for WWII service. The Duck featured a fabric-covered wing with an all-metal fuselage, with the engine mounted high above the wing on a pylon. The oddball Duck never saw service in the war, and was too costly for private pilots. In the end, only 18 were built. By 1950, it was revised in a four-seat model, the Drake, but only two Drakes were ever built. The remaining Drake is on display at the Military Aviation Preservation Society in Canton, OH.
Probably the strangest aircraft from Goodyear, though (and possibly one of the strangest planes ever) was the 1950s Inflatoplane. Designed and built in only 90 days, the Inflatoplane was designed to be dropped behind enemy lines in a crate. Its body and wings were rubberized nylon, with a mesh of nylon threads for rigidity. It could be inflated in about five minutes, with the 40-horsepower motor constantly forcing air into the wings and fuselage to retain its shape and structure. The Inflatoplane could fly 390 miles at about 60 mph; one-seat and two-seat versions were developed. Unfortunately, an Army test pilot was killed during testing at Akron’s Wingfoot Lake, but development continued until the program was cancelled in 1973. Of the 12 Inflatoplanes built, one was donated to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and one to the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. An Army spokesman remarked that it was hard to find a “valid military use for an aircraft that could be brought down by a well-aimed bow and arrow.”
Over the years, Goodyear has also been involved in aerospace, with missile programs and the MPP (Massively Parallel Processor) supercomputer, designed for the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in 1979. Interestingly, in 1954 Goodyear proposed the Meteor…a reusable spacecraft design that not only predated the Space Shuttle, but came long before manned space flight was even a reality!
Now you know a little more about the company that produces the great tires that we carry at The Tire Terminal in Mississauga, ON. You may not need an Inflatoplane or an MPP, but the next time you need a great set of Goodyear tires…make an appointment with us!