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The US invented an inflatable plane to drop behind enemy lines – & it worked!

Nick Knight

One of the most unusual aircraft ever designed is the Goodyear Inflatoplane. It was an improbable rubber aircraft designed for the United States Army as a compact rescue vehicle.

The Goodyear Company is known for their famous blimps, but they also built military aircraft under license, such as versions of the Vought Corsair. They also wanted to build rubber airplanes and in the 1950’s they finally got their chance.

Although Inflatoplane was a new idea and it seemed like it was an almost improbable project at the beginning, the US Army sponsored development of the Inflatoplane.

Goodyear inflatoplane on display at the Smithsonian Institution

Goodyear Inflatoplane on display at the Smithsonian Institution

What would be the military use of this aircraft? According to Goodyear, this type of aircraft was suitable for all types of Army field operations. They claimed that it could be packed into a 44 cubic foot container and transported by another aircraft, jeep trailer or truck. What is more interesting about the Goodyear Inflatoplane was that it could be dropped behind enemy lines so downed pilots could rescue themselves.

There were some attempts to design, build and fly an inflatable rubber glider in the past. Taylor McDaniel was the first to come up with the idea when his friend died after an accident in a Brazilian jungle.

McDaniel worked on his idea for a number of years before he finally received a patent for an inflated rubber tube glider that flew twice on January 4, 1931, but the pilot experienced control problems.

Photograph made by US Army employee working with Goodyear.

Photograph made by US Army employee working with Goodyear.

The Soviet engineers designed, built and flew a glider constructed out of a light rubberized canvas. At first, the project was successful and they tried to make an improved version, but the outcome of this improved version is unknown.

The British also made an attempt to create an aircraft that could be carried deflated aboard a submarine but  the project never went past the early experimental stages.

The Goodyear Aircraft Corporation in 1956 made the most successful variation of the inflatable rubber plane – The Inflatoplane. The engineers built the first prototype the GA-33. It took them a little over 12 days before the Inflatoplane was built and flown.

Testing was successful and they developed a more advanced model designated the GA-447, and after an impressive testing Goodyear built 10 more Inflatoplanes under the sponsorship of the Army Transportation Corps and the Office of Naval Research.

An Inflatoplane comes in for a landing.

An Inflatoplane comes in for a landing.

They developed even more advanced model replacing the 40-hp engine version with a 60-hp engine. This new model was designated the GA-468. They also designed a parachute-drop pallet and container for the deflated Inflatoplane for use as an airdrop rescue vehicle for pilots downed in hostile territory.

The GA-468 was a single-seater and their next goal was to develop a two-place Inflatoplane. This last version was designated the GA-466 and could carry two fliers instead of just one. Its top speed was 69 mph and a 230-mile range.

Model 466/XAO-2 Inflatoplane

Model 466/XAO-2 Inflatoplane

In 1959 Goodyear planned to design two more aerodynamically smooth Inflatoplane with a 100-hp engine and this model was designed to have a fully enclosed cockpit.

Goodyear made a number of planes, but in the fall of 1959, Goodyear ceased production and cancelled the project.

Goodyear donated one Inflatoplane to the Smithsonian and another to the Franklin Museum in Philadelphia, while the first GA-33 Inflatoplane was donated to the Ohio Museum of Flight.