The “Flying Pancake” is a one-of-kind aircraft that dates back to World War II when Chance Vought built and flew the airplane to test designer Charles H. Zimmerman’s theories about extremely low-aspect ratio wing design that allowed an aircraft to fly at very slow speeds. The Vought V-173 design features a circular airfoil with large-diameter propellers on the wing tips. Its designer reasoned that the drag, which is created by disturbed airflow near the tip of conventional wings, would be minimized by placing the propeller at the wing tip. By maintaining a uniform flow over the entire span, Mr. Zimmerman felt that it could take off and land at exceptionally low speeds and still have good high-speed performance. After pursuing this idea with NACA (NASA’s predecessor), he was encouraged to go to private industry and develop it further.
The V-173 proof-of-concept vehicle was built under a 1940 U.S. Navy contract and it made its first flight on November 23, 1942. The V-173 has a circular wing 23.3 feet in diameter and a symmetrical NACA airfoil section. A huge 16 foot diameter three-bladed prop was mounted at the tip of each airfoil blanketing the entire aircraft in their slipstreams. Power was provided by two 80 HP Continental A-80 engines. During its 131-hour test program, it was found that it had unusual flight characteristics and control responses, but could be handled effectively. It could almost hover and it survived several forced landings, including a nose-over, with no serious damage to the aircraft, or injury to the pilot. Restoration of the V-173 “Flying Pancake” developed into a large and challenging project.
Over an eight year period, the Vought Aircraft Heritage Foundation Volunteers donated over 25,000 labor hours to complete this effort. This aircraft is on long term loan from the Smithsonian Institution.