Could you build an airplane from a car?

Ok so here are the rules. Take a average car, say a civic, or ford focus or what have you and for all you smart asses out there no you cant choose one of those flying car hybrids. You can use any tools or equipment and can smelt down the car if you wanted to and cut and trim the parts to make wings, elevators, etc. Does a standard average car have the raw material to be turned into a flying machine? My first guess would be that a car doesn’t have enough aluminum to fly? It can be the most simple flying craft, it doenst even need an enclosed cockpit, it can be open like the wright brothers aircraft. One of my ideas would be to use the E-Brake cable to control the elevators but thats where my ideas stop.

Airplanes made with an aluminum frame generally have a safety factor of 1.05 or so. What would the wings be made out of? There’s not enough fabric for a skeleton wing, so it’d have to be solid steel. Wouldn’t work, I don’t believe.

I would say a qualified yes.
With the advent of digital electronics, and networks in cars, you could build a fly by wire car. Here is where the qualifier comes in, you might have to change out some of the actuators for some that have the “horsepower” to move flight control surfaces.
Several modern cars use aluminum for the body structure. Modern planes are made of aluminum, so no problem there.
Re cast the V8 as a straight 4 and you have a bunch more aluminum to work with.

I just realized the OP didn’t say anything about needing to make the plane big enough to need a pilot, either. There is certainly enough material to make an RC plane, in any case.

I took “it doenst even need an enclosed cockpit, it can be open like the wright brothers aircraft” to mean that it needs to be able to lift a single person.

Within the rules of the OP, you’re allowed to melt and smelt as you see fit, reduce the car to a row of cauldrons of alloy if you want. This gives you a lot of flexibility - cast iron from the engine block can be mixed with the mild steel of the body panels to make higher carbon steel, for example. You can then draw high carbon steel into high strength wire for control actuator cables…

So I would say yes, almost certainly. There’s no real problem with an all-steel plane, its specific strength isn’t quite as good as the aluminium alloys but you can make hollow wings of very thin mild steel. A bi-plane box structure gives them rigidity. There’s other tricks, using corrugated mild steel sheet with a steel foil outer skin for the wings, make the rest of the plane a skeleton…

Much more challenging is building a plane from a car using only a really good machine shop! Also more interesting… and I’m not sure of the answer. Having seen what the Cubans can do with car parts (they’ll cut the roof off a scrap car and beat it into a new door for another one) I’m fairly sure you can make something that looks like a plane. Wings, prop, engine, control surfaces. There might be enough wire in a car to make control cables, or you could pinch hydraulics from the brake system, or use the motors from the wipers and power windows… But whether it’ll be light enough to get off the ground is another matter! It might come down to what car you choose, the power and weight of its engine being the decider.

I don’t know much about aero-stuff, but the choice of car could potentially be a big deal. Probably a Lotus of some sort would be your best bet as their design philosophy is to make highly-engineered, lightweight cars. For instance, their new concept car appears to be mostly aluminum.

My WAG is that a standard car wouldn’t have enough aluminium to provide enough lifting surface for the weight of the engine, and pilot.

Yes, but then your plane’s electrical system would fizzle out before you got it off the ground.

I suggest an Audi A8 as the donor car. Plenty of aluminium and plenty of circuit boards and servos and other such goodies you’ll need.

AVE Mizar.

You could use fabric from seats to make canvas-on-aluminum frame wings, or parts of wings. Extra few square feets of lifting surface. Also, as **Rick **noted, you can always recast engine into something lighter and with better weight-to-power ratio.

Instead of the conventional airplane engine, perhaps a rocket plane would be much more suitable in getting a big hunk of steal into the sky.

Let’s not get obsessive about aluminium. It’s less dense than steel, but also less strong and less stiff. Specific strength, i.e. strength-to-weight, is what’s important, and steel isn’t that much worse than aluminium, and quite a bit better than wood. Which is what all planes were made from for quite a while.

Let’s say the plane is a skeleton frame, made from the chassis cut up and welded back together, with as many lightening holes drilled in it as you can get away with. Practically swiss cheese by the time you’ve finished. Add one engine, a gas tank and prop. Use a separating dolly for undercarriage - take off and leave it behind! Maybe include skids for landing.

Then the question becomes, can you make enough wing area to lift the frame, engine, gas tank and pilot, plus the wings themselves? I’m guessing it’ll be tight. I’d use the body panel steel to make hollow airfoil sections with part-length internal triangle corrugations for stiffness. Mount the wings high and use the seatbelt straps as diagonal tensile members from the wing midpoints to the bottom of the frame. Use the upholstery over a steel skeleton to add a few feet to each wing tip. Might be enough.

That’s some ambitious plane design! Why do you need an electrical system? Personally, I just want the engine alternator to keep the plugs sparking!

It’s an interesting question whether motors and servos moving the control surfaces would be lighter than using the brake circuit hydraulics and emergency brake cable. But any piloting would be strictly seat-of-the-pants stuff, and hydraulics would at least provide some tactile feedback through the controls. I’d go with hydraulics.

I’m also wondering if you can leave some bits of your engine behind. With the engine not enclosed and the propwash passing over it, could you dump the radiator, just use a length of pipe for water cooling and let the airflow do the rest?

I’m thinking a modern auto engine might stack up well against an aircraft engine in terms of power-to-weight. A cast iron block will be heavier of course, but many auto engines are aluminium these days. Even if not, aero engines are typically low-compression and low-revving for reliability, trading power for safety.

Why not start with a stretch limo? More metal and fabric, but not too much more weight considering most of it is cabin space. If that doesn’t satisfy the “average car” the OP suggests, then maybe an Oldsmobile, Buick, or some other overly large old-fogey sedan.

I could swear I remember reading about someone selling a kit to turn a Honda CRX into a plane. Does that sound familiar to anyone?

I was just about to post the same thing. Molt Taylor, who designed the only certified roadable airplane in existence (the “Aerocar”), started designing a turbine-powered roadable airplane based on a Honda CRX. I don’t think it ever made it past the design stage, and Molt died in 1995.

Ed Sweeney took the concept from there, but abandoned the CRX. I understand he’s designed an airplane based on the Lotus Elise, which is probably a much better platform (stripped down, you can get it under 1500 lbs). But still… In my opinion a roadable airplane makes a lousy car and a lousy airplane. There are just too many incompatible requirements and compromises that have to be made.

You could actually buy an Aerocar pre-assembled, but few people did.

Well, one guy turns cars into helicopters.

But you don’t need to build a roadable airplane, you just need something that can get off the ground under it’s own power. In that case, the interior fabric is probably going to be more useful than whatever aluminum parts the car might have.

You need an electrical system to move the flaps and rudder and ailerons and instruments. I doubt there would be enough brake cable to go all the way to the tailplane AND most of the way down the wing - plus you’d only have one (two?) brake pumps, so you can only operate one control surface.

You don’t need a lot of wing if you use a lifting body. Consider the Dyke Delta which is a steel truss airplane. Elevons to simplify construction and fabric covered control surfaces. You’d have 1/2 a ton of material left over.