On Display Now Through May 31, 2021

At the dawn of aviation, following the success of the Wright brothers' lift off from the sandy dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, dozens of other dreamers were working on their own flying machines. Shortly after that first December 17th, 1903 flight, aviators all over the world were adopting the Wrights' basic ideas to develop and improve upon. With better designs and new approaches, aircraft quickly took to the skies. It may come as a surprise that during this same period, these innovations of the air were also used on the ground for flightless vehicles!

In 1913, French engineer Marcel Leyat used the aviation skills he learned in World War I to build one fo the first vehicles to effectively apply propeller power from an aerodynamic road vehicle. Leyat was not alone in his effort; there were others melding engines with propellers to the backs of existing vehicles. However, Leyat's "plane without wings" combined the thrill of flight in a car that looked like an airplane, complete with a front propeller, and unlike anything on the road.

What propeller-driven vehicles have in common is that their engines do not power the wheels - the engine turns the propeller, pulling the car just like an airplane. Being propeller-driven, there is no need for a transmission, clutch, or differential, which both simplified and reduced weight. Leyat believed in this simplicity; a lightweight and rigid wood monocoque, coupled with minimal mechanicals could make a great vehicle for mass production. Ironically, most of these propeller-driven vehicles had their pitfalls. One of the most notable downsides was that the propeller blades kicked up debris and presented a considerable hazard for both the car's occupants and any bystanders. Additionally, the wind generated by the propeller could cause discomfort for the occupants, even when wearing goggles behind the small windshield. The overwhelming noise level was another consideration of passenger discomfort. From a performance standpoint, acceleration from a stop or up even modest grades left a lot to be desired - in some cases, the car could find itself rolling backward! It's not too surprising mass production never really... took off.

Wingless Wonders is an exhilarating exhibition of propeller-driven vehicles, spanning the early 1900s to the late 1970s. Here is a chance to place yourself at the exciting and turbulent dawn of aviation and marvel at these hybrid vehicles. With their unusual airborne designs, let your imagination soar!


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