In 1939, aerodynamicist Charles Zimmerman, who had joined Chance Vought two years earlier, built a two-foot-long, electric-powered model, the V-172 (above), to test his theory of a flying disk. His later creation, the V-173, had its roots in a 1933 competition at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (where Zimmerman then worked) for a civilian lightplane that would hover like a helicopter. Zimmerman's design—nicknamed the Flying Pancake, Flying Flapjack, and Zimmer's Skimmer—won the competition with its aerodynamic excellence and sound engineering. But NACA rejected the idea for further development because it was "too advanced."
Seventy years later, a group of Flying Pancake aficionados in Texas set out to restore the V-173 to its original lustre.
See the gallery below for more pictures of the original Flying Pancake and its restoration.
A full-scale model of the V-173 Flying Pancake is tested at the NACA wind tunnel in Langley, Virginia, in December 1941.
On June 3, 1943, an engine vapor lock forced pilot Richard Burroughs to make an emergency landing on Lordship Beach, near the Vought plant in Stratford, Connecticut. He flipped the aircraft trying to avoid running over a sunbather. The mishap broke two propeller blades, but the fact that Burroughs walked away, and the cockpit was not crushed, persuaded Charles Lindbergh, who saw the crash, to fly the aircraft that November.
A truck hauls the Pancake, crated for weather protection, from the Vought plant in Connecticut to Norfolk Naval Air Station in Virginia in 1949. The V-173 made its first flight on November 23, 1942.
An engineer stands beneath the open entry hatch during engine run-up tests at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, New York, in the 1940s.
In 2003, Vought restorers began conserving the Pancake. Here, restorers roll the mostly completed aircraft out of the hangar in Grand Prairie before installation of the propeller blades.
Wear and Tear
The Pancake showed decades of wear and tear after arriving in the Vought hangar in Grand Prairie, Texas, in late 2003 for its restoration.
Restorers from the Vought Aircraft Heritage Foundation built a rotisserie-like frame that enabled them to work anywhere on the Pancake by simply rotating it into the desired position.
The cockpit afforded plenty of visibility. Because the aircraft came down on final approach at such a high pitch attitude, the pilot had to look at his feet to see his touchdown point. This view from atop the pilot's seat shows the rudder pedals and the windscreen behind.
Ready to Exhibit
The V-173 rolls in to the Cree Main Exhibit Gallery at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas on March 27, 2012 for the museum’s welcome ceremony and, naturally, a pancake breakfast.