The Avrocar – Dayton, Ohio - Atlas Obscura

The Avrocar

National Museum of the U.S. Air Force

A real flying saucer, contracted by the U.S. Air Force. 


The year was 1952 and the Cold War was in full chill. The House Un-American Activities Committee was looking for “reds under beds,” while teenage boys read science fiction comics and watched movies like “The Day The Earth Stood Still.”

As both communist paranoia and the sci-fi craze swept the nation, UFO sightings were spreading like an epidemic across the United States. Even Air Force pilots reported being pursued by flying saucers. They may not all have been so crazy after all.

Enter the Avro Canada VZ-9. The Avrocar was a VTOL – vertical take off and landing – aircraft developed in Canada by Avro Aircraft Ltd. as part of a secret U.S. military project carried out in the early years of the Cold War.

The Avrocar intended to exploit the Coandă effect – “the tendency of a fluid jet to be attracted to a nearby surface” – to provide lift and thrust in the form of a single “turbo rotor” blowing exhaust out the rim of the disk-shaped aircraft, sort of like a hovercraft on speed. The vehicle was meant to manned by a crew of two, in separate cockpits, and the army planned on utilizing the craft as a sort of “flying jeep.”

In the air, the Avrocar distinctly resembled a flying saucer. Two prototypes were built as “proof-of-concept” test vehicles, before building a more advanced USAF fighter. However, In flight-testing, the Avrocar proved to have unresolved thrust and stability problems. The saucer proved immensely difficult to fly with very sensitive controls, and one pilot likened flying it to “balancing on a beach ball.” Though the Avrocar was made to fly up to 190 km/h and it was believed with some modifications the project was salvageable, funding ran out and the project was canceled in September 1961.

The first Avrocar eventually became a “wind tunnel” test model at NASA until 1966, when it was donated to the National Air and Space Museum, in Suitland, Maryland where it mostly gathered dust and began to fall apart.

Scheduled for restoration and display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center the Avrocar has been loaned to the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

If you can’t get down to Ohio to see the real deal you can see a full-scale replica of the Avrocar at the Western Canada Aviation Museum, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The reproduction was prepared for the 2002 TV production, Avrocar: Saucer Secrets from the Past. It now resides in the museum as an exhibit.

Know Before You Go

National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, or Western Canada Aviation Museum, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

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