Yogi Martin smiles thoughtfully when he hears about someone inventing a car that flies.
Lately, Canadian Marcus Leng has been in the news with his invention of a single-seat, all-electric flying vehicle called the “BlackFly.”
Leng, who owns Opener, Inc., in Palo Alto, Calif., plans for the BlackFly to be on sale in 2019 for the price of an SUV.
Martin wishes the inventor well.
“I’d be very happy for him to see if he can make it happen,” said Ogden (Yogi) Martin Jr., who lives in Fremont.
Martin can appreciate a flying car in a way few other people can.
His dad, Ogden Martin Sr., invented one in Fremont in the 1950s.
The Martin Air Roadable Amphibious Aircar is a 750-pound plywood craft that resembles a huge wing. Martin, who sat inside a 4-foot compartment, drove the aircar along U.S. Highway 77. He motored it across Victory Lake near Fremont and conducted test flights at the old Scribner Airbase.
Today, the car is in the Forney Museum of Transportation in Denver, but Yogi Martin remembers when his dad was inventing it.
Martin’s dad had finished eighth grade in the 1930s when he quit school to work in an auto body shop. He lived off Coca Cola and candy bars, giving any extra money he earned to his family.
“Slowly, he learned how to fix and paint cars and he learned about motors,” Martin said.
In 1938, he built one of the first airboats with a car motor.
Unable to join the military due to diabetes, Martin’s dad joined the Civil Air Patrol as a mechanic and worked on airplane engines at Fremont Municipal Airport part time. He also was a pilot.
He built a skicar in around 1946. It was a box of a car on big tires with an airplane motor and a cage around a propeller prop. He drove it down the street in the summer.
“I remember riding in it all over town,” Martin said. “It was noisy. We could go up steep hills.
“In the wintertime, he could put skis on it and go anywhere. It might have been one of the very first snowmobiles.”
Someone in the Dakotas bought that skicar from Martin in about 1950, so they could take food to their cattle on the ranges after it snowed.
In 1954, Martin was commissioned by the state game commission to build a big airboat using parts from crashed Cessna airplane.
“They wanted wheels that would come down on the airboat,” Yogi Martin said.
That way, the game warden could drive the vehicle from his house to the Platte River and go into the water with the wheels pulled mechanically up inside the body. The warden could patrol the river looking for poachers then drive home.
After the airboat was built, they found it would almost fly because of the big airplane motor.
Martin was in his garage when he got the idea to develop a combination land, water and aircraft.
Yogi Martin remembers his dad coming in house saying if the bottom of an airboat is similar to bottom of a wing – and if he could stabilize the body – he should be able to make something that would fly.
One day, Ogden Sr. came into the house with two tag-board paper models of wing-shaped paper airplanes. Fins, made of heavy cardboard, were taped to the plane to stabilize it. He threw one of the planes in the house and it glided perfectly to the floor.
Martin developed the craft with a high-lift foil – in which fins on the aircar channeled the wind, lifting it off the ground. The fins, which could be controlled, provided two lifting surfaces.
He also developed an air cushion design, where the craft’s exhaust was pumped under the nose, forming a layer of bubbles that helped it get off the water.
Martin was the first to patent that design, his son said.
The tear-shaped aircar was finished in about 1959. Nebraska Governor Frank Morrison was so impressed he gave Ogden Sr. permission to use the Scribner Air Force Base as a test site.
Martin said the vehicle had to be triple-licensed as a car, boat and experimental aircraft.
He remembers being in a car behind his dad, who was driving the craft up to the air base.
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They got about 2 miles north of Fremont and cars were driving off the road as motorists turned their necks to get a better look at what had just passed them.
Eventually, a Nebraska State Patrol officer turned around and stopped the aircar. He checked the licenses – then escorted them to the air force base.
After that, they put the aircar on a trailer, which they covered and drove to the base.
Martin recalls the test flights.
“Anytime we wanted to test it, aeronautic engineers had to be present,” Martin said. “They wouldn’t let us just fly it around, because it was so strange-looking. They just wanted it to take off, fly a couple hundred yards down the runway and land to show stability.”
Martin’s brother, Paul, who lives in Denver and helped his dad build the car, recalled one frightening 6 a.m. test flight.
He was with his dad and some onlookers when his father prepared to make a test run and fly into the south wind.
A storm was brewing, however, and as Martin was taxiing the craft north, the wind shifted and hit the aircar head-on. Fins on the craft lifted the aircar up about 30 to 40 feet.
Martin tried to cut the engine and shove the stick forward to get the nose down, but the craft went straight into the air then slid upside down on the runway.
“It was terrible,” Paul said in a 2004 Tribune story. “I was in the back of a pickup holding a fire extinguisher and I froze.”
Friends grabbed the extinguisher, but the plywood fuselage hadn’t sparked nor did the gas tank rupture. Ribs of the internal structure acted like a roll bar, protecting Martin and the gas tank (situated at the front of the craft for balance).
The aircar was damaged, but Martin, who was wearing a seatbelt, was uninjured. He spent six months rebuilding the aircar.
Martin wanted to further develop and produce the aircar.
He and his wife, Gwendolyn, visited several major corporations, presenting his idea. He generated interest, but no money.
However, many people, including pilots and representatives from the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force and National Aeronautics Administration, came to Martin’s garage at 1704 N. C St., to see the aircar.
The Air Force was interested in the aircar, because of its compact size and foldable wings, Yogi Martin said.
His dad gained a few private investors, including a state senator, who took interest after Martin had some of his ideas patented in the early 1960s.
In all, he would have seven different patents on it, Yogi Martin said, adding that each one gives a general principle as to how the craft works without telling details.
Martin’s dad spent long hours working on his ideas, but precious little time on his own health. He died of diabetic shock at 11:30 a.m., Christmas Day 1965, but not before telling family that he loved them.
He was only 51.
“We don’t know why the government never accepted it (the aircar),” Yogi Martin said.
With the current design, the aircar wouldn’t be good for high-speed flying, but would be good for gliding. Yogi draws similarities between his dad’s car and the space shuttle, which doesn’t take off from the ground, but goes aboard a spacecraft. The space shuttle comes in at a high altitude at 3 miles a second and over a period of time slows, catches air and glides.
“The aircar is an excellent glider,” he said. “The high-lift air foil enables the space shuttle and this craft to glide very efficiently with control.”
Before he died, Ogden Martin Sr. had seen pictures from early model space shuttle test flights where the craft crashed during gliding and landing.
“It’s not the airplane design that’s a failure. It’s the landing gear,” Martin Sr. said.
And Yogi told that to the National Air Authority when someone called asking for his dad. The person on the other end of the line hung up when Yogi said his father had died.
One of Martin’s investors, Al Hayden of Bennington, took the experimental aircar, planning to rebuild the landing gear to prepare for more tests. But while trying to install new landing gear, Hayden had a heart attack and died, Paul said.
After Hayden’s death, Paul obtained the aircar and put it in the Denver museum. Gwendolyn died in 2004. Yogi and Paul’s brother, Robert “Buzz” Martin, was 62 when he died in 2006.
Yogi Martin became a science teacher who taught for 30 years in Valley. He then taught Introduction to Physics for 10 years at Fremont Middle School. Yogi and Paul have long appreciated their dad’s ingenuity.
“I feel fortunate to live with the man I had as a father as a creative genius and a man who loved to help people,” Yogi Martin said. “My dad taught me that anything can be fixed by man that was built by man if you’re willing to pay the price and do the time.”