A most intriguing INFO (Identified Non Flying Object): The Phillips Saucercraft hovercraft

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The Phillips Saucercraft hovercraft, Mount Hope, Ontario. Anon., “Flying saucer crack-up”. The Calgary Herald, 2 March 1961, 1.

As you may well imagine, the wonderful world of aeronautics and astronautics is chock full of wonderful flying machines. A surprisingly high number of these wonderful vehicles are, well, not very well known. While it is true that that this unfortunate lack of information plagued, plagues and will plague flying machines devised before 1914 and the start of the First World War, the fact is that some fairly recent aerial vehicles are not well documented. One of these would be a fine topic for our blog / bulletin / thingee.

Today, however, yours truly wishes to take another path.

I ask you, honestly, had you heard of the Phillips Saucercraft hovercraft before you set your pretty little eyes on a photograph of it a couple of minutes ago? Please do not feel bad. Yours truly had never heard of it either.

The information which accompanied the photograph you just looked at was both interesting and cryptic. Said photograph was published in the 2 March 1961 issue of The Calgary Herald, a daily newspaper published in Calgary, Alberta.

And here is the caption which accompanied the image.

Back under wraps at Mount Hope airport at Hamilton, Ontario, a prototype flying saucer, above, is reported to have cracked up during trials. Eyewitnesses said the machine, termed “saucercraft,” got partially off the ground but became entangled in its tow ropes and snapped a drive shaft. Believed to have been invented by a Hamilton naval officer, Lt. Cdr. Adrian Phillips, the machine is shaped like a bowler hat, will carry 5 passengers in a cabin and is about [6 metres] 20 feet long. Philips [sic] will neither confirm nor deny the reports on the vehicle.

Intriguing, is it not? And cryptic too…

Indeed, yours truly could not say if Phillips’ vehicle was an aircraft or a hovercraft.

A brief article published in 1961 in an Oakville, Ontario, daily newspaper, The Oakville Record-Star, however, mentioned that the Saucercraft was fitted with an automobile engine, more precisely an American compact automobile engine. Given the difficulties inherent in using an automobile engine in an aircraft, especially an aircraft as odd looking as the Saucercraft, I had a strong suspicion that this circular vehicle was / is a hovercraft.

The fact that the author of this same article added in the next sentence that a pair of fans forced a large volume of air underneath the Saucercraft to create an air cushion confirmed my suspicions. The Saucercraft was / is a hovercraft, a civilian one to be more precise.

Indeed, it was / is probably one of the first hovercraft designed, made and tested in Canada. Imagine that.

Given the need for lightness in a hovercraft, yours truly wonders if the automobile engine chosen by Adrian “Ade” Phillips to power the Saucercraft came from a Chevrolet Corvair. After all, the air-cooled engine of this ill-fated automobile was probably the lightest source of motive power of its type in North America.

And yes, in later years, a (small?) number of (American?) homebuilt aircraft flew / fly with modified Corvair engines.

And yes again, a Corvair can be found in the collection of the Canada Science and Technology Museum of Canada, of Ottawa, Ontario, a sister / brother institution of the world famous Canada Aviation and Space Museum, of Ottawa.

Sadly, the crack-up mentioned in the photograph caption mentioned above was not the only one the Saucercraft experienced at Mount Hope airport, in late February and early March 1961. Indeed, this intriguing machine cracked up thrice within a few days. It suffered little damage, however. Carefully put on a trailer hitched to a station wagon, and covered by a tarpaulin, the Saucercraft was escorted, by one of more vehicles of the Ontario Provincial Police, all the way to Oakville, where Phillips lived.

Further tests took place within a few days. Yours truly cannot say (type?) if said trials took place at Mount Hope airport or in Oakville. Somehow, I have a feeling that they took place in the latter location, to avoid publicity.

Sadly enough, the Saucercraft was seemingly not put in production. This being said (typed?), it is possible that Phillips formed a small firm, Aerion Limited of Oakville, to develop and / or market his design.

The small team which had put together this most intriguing vehicle must have been disappointed. Said people worked for Aero Marine Industries Limited of Oakville, a small firm founded around 1947.

Having mentioned the name of Aero Marine Industries, I would like to pontificate for a few minutes about this firm and a few others.

As you may imagine, the experiential knowledge acquired during the Second World War by many small and medium-sized Canadian businesses from coast to coast opened some doors for them once peace returned, at least for a while. One only needed / needs to think of the technology of moulded / laminated / folded wood.

Lawrie Mackintosh and Hugh A. Dodds supervised the production of wood furniture designed by the latter in the workshops of Aero Marine Industries.

Canadian Wooden Aircraft Company Limited of Stratford, Ontario, produced modern looking furniture.

In Vancouver, British Columbia, Drake Industries Limited began the production of moulded wood dining and living room furniture known as Mouldcraft. It used tooling designed in large part by its production manager, Jack White, an expert mechanic who had worked for a local company which made wooden aircraft parts.

Unfortunately, Mrs. and Mr. Everyone being not particularly interested in modern unpadded wooden furniture, these pioneers were not slow to disappear or merge with larger firms. Canadian Wooden Aircraft, for example, became a subsidiary of Imperial Rattan Company Limited, a Stratford firm known from 1949 on as Imperial Furniture Making Company Limited.

One of the few, if not the only, post-Second World War wood furniture maker still in existence in 2021 was founded in Shelburne, Nova Scotia, in a clothing depot abandoned by the military after the end of the conflict.

Inspired by the performance of the British wooden multirole combat aircraft de Havilland Mosquito, an aircraft manufactured under license in Downsview, Ontario, by a well-known aircraft manufacturer, de Havilland Aircraft of Canada Limited (DHC), Archibald King and Hebert Balfour Swim, cousins ​​and veterans who were not pilots visited some workshops. They also met with representatives of the Technical Information Service, an agency under the Department of Reconstruction, before it was transferred to the National Research Council of Canada, where it transformed into the Industrial Research Assistance Program of 2021.

And yes, DHC was mentioned many times in our blog / bulletin / thingee, and this since February 2018.

Need I tell you that the collection of the astonishing Canada Aviation and Space Museum includes a Mosquito? I thought not.

King and Swim founded Ven-Rez Products Limited in 1947 but their laminated wood table and chairs sold poorly. In 1948, the company signed a first contract for desks and chairs for a secondary school in the Shelburne area. Ven-Rez Products had found its path. Over the years, it introduced new products in metal and / or plastic. It also managed to export to Ontario, then abroad, to the Caribbean and Africa. Shaw Group Limited of Lantz, Nova Scotia, a large and diverse group in the Atlantic provinces, acquired Ven-Rez Products in May 2006. End of pontification.

You may be surprised, or not, to hear (read?) that Dodds did not set up Aero Marine Industries to produce furniture. Nay. Back in 1935, when he was 21 or so years old, he had built a small sailboat, in a cellar, at home, in his spare time. By the end of 1939, Dodds had built a dozen or so boats. He may well have sold a few of these.

In any event, he soon joined the staff of Massey-Harris Company Limited, the largest manufacturer of farm equipment in the Commonwealth. Indeed, he spent much / most of the Second World War at the Weston plant of the firm, working on the production of droppable fuel tanks for the aforementioned Mosquito.

Dodds began to work on a dinghy in the aforementioned cellar, in 1945, in his spare time. Running out of space, he moved to a larger location. Similar in construction and, to some extent, in appearance to the droppable fuel tanks Dodds had worked on, the Pollywog was completed in September. Three of the people who saw Dodds testing his new creation were so impressed that they asked him to build Pollywogs for them.

During the winter of 1945-46, Dodds designed a smaller and a larger version of his dinghy. He then modified all 3 versions for use as sailboats or motorboats. People who saw Dodds testing his new creations were again very impressed. By the end of 1946, he had sold close to 35 Pollywogs. While most of these could be found in the Great Lakes region, a Pollywog could be seen in Brazil.

Mind you, Dodds was also making 40 to 50 surfboards a month, not to mention Red Cross lifesaving buoys.

Let us now move forward a few years to see what Aero Marine Industries was up to during the 1950s. In 1952 or so, for example, the firm introduced a wooden chair which could easily be stacked. This Dodds Stacking Chair was produced mainly for (Ontario?) school boards, and this right until 1972 or so.

By 1955, Aero Marine Industries had discovered plastics. It looked as if one of its lines of products owed its existence to… a bathtub. I kid you not. Once upon a time, a worn out cliché if there was / is one, the bathtub Dodds wanted to put in his new factory penthouse arrived 2 months late. It was also damaged. After waiting 2 months for a replacement bathtub, which he may or may not have used in the end, Dodds got fed up. The plastic bathtub he designed and built worked just fine, and it was much, much lighter than a conventional bathtub. Indeed, Dodds was so pleased that he soon designed and built a plastic washbasin, not to mention plastic and fibreglass flagstones for his patio. Aero Marine Industries soon began to sell these items, which proved quite popular.

Sadly, yours truly does not know when Aero Marine Industries went out of business.

To cheer you up, would you care for a couple of digressive paragraphs on Massey-Harris and aviation during the months which preceded the onset of the Second World War? And yes, this was indeed a rhetorical question. You should know that by now.

At the end of 1938 or the beginning of 1939, American representatives of the Société d’emboutissage et de constructions mécaniques (SECM) proposed to Massey-Harris to participate in the series production of the all new Amiot 350 twin-engine medium bomber. An initial order of 100 aircraft seemed possible. At that time, a close associate of the president of the French firm was also looking for a factory in Louisiana. With the federal / Canadian government seeing no objection to the Amiot 350 production program, Massey-Harris entered into negotiations.

Canada Cycle & Motor Company Limited, the largest manufacturer of bicycles in the country, appeared interested in participating in the project.

Time passed. In Paris, enthusiasm waned. SECM offered to produce a number of aircraft for the United States Army Air Corps. The latter showed little interest. Discussions were stalling. The French authorities also discovered that the American businessmen with whom they were doing business were in fact wheeler dealers with no reputation, and no factory. Nothing worked anymore. Finally, at the end of its patience, the French Ministère de l’Air decided to call it quits, but back to our topic of the week. It is high time.

Little is known about the creator of the Saucercraft, the aforementioned Phillips. What follows is what yours truly has managed to dig up so far, with the help of kind people.

Phillips was apparently born in 1924. He began a bachelor’s degree in Arts and Science at Queen’s University, in Kingston, Ontario, in the fall of 1940. Phillips did so in preparation for writing a Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) examination in the spring of 1941. He began to serve, in the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy however, in September of that year.

Would you believe that, at the time, Phillips’ mother and father were living in Rockcliffe Park, near Ottawa, Ontario, a stone’s throw from where one can see, in 2021, the aforementioned shatteringly great Canada Aviation and Space Museum? Small world, isn’t it?

As well, would you believe that Phillips’ older brothers, Geoffrey and Raymond Phillips, also served in the RCN? Said brothers had joined this service in 1935 and 1939.

Better yet, their father, Thomas C. Phillips, was also an RCN officer. Born in the United Kingdom, he had served in the Royal Navy for several / many years before transferring to the RCN, in 1918.

Better yet squared, Adrian, Geoffrey and Thomas C. Phillips were all engineering officers. Indeed, during the summer or fall of 1943, Adrian Phillips joined the crew of a new RCN destroyer, HMCS Huron. There, he found himself working for his brother.

If I may be permitted a comment, I find it a bit odd that the RCN allowed 2 brothers to serve on the same ship in wartime. Losing one child is bad enough, but two…

After the end of a convoy escort mission, in November 1943, Adrian and Geoffrey Phillips met their older brother, Raymond, somewhere in Scotland from the looks of it. They had not seen each other since 1937, but back to our brief bio of Adrian Phillips.

This gentleman may, I repeat may, perhaps, have graduated from Queen’s University, or resumed his studies there, maybe, in 1944.

In any event, Phillips rejoined the RCN after the end of the Second World War, in 1947 perhaps. No later than August 1954, he was with an anti-submarine squadron of the RCN which spent part of its time in the North Atlantic, aboard the light aircraft carrier HMCS Magnificent.

As of January 1957, Phillips was with the RCN’s technical services. Indeed, he was the resident controller at a Scarborough, Ontario, plant owned by John Inglis & Company which was producing, under license, a number of steam turbines which would be installed in a number (13? 17? 19?) of destroyer escorts of the RCN. And yes, you are of course correct, my reading friend. John Inglis was mentioned in a March 2021 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee.

In 1959, Phillips was the engineering staff officer attached to the Commanding Officer, Naval Divisions, as the headquarters of the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve was seemingly known at the time. This headquarters was located at HMCS Patriot, a land based unit of the RCN located in Hamilton, Ontario.

It looks as if Phillips retired between June 1960 and January 1961, which could explain why the Saucercraft was tested in February of 1961.

Sadly, yours truly does not know if Phillips is still with us.

Take good care of yourself, my reading friend.

This writer wishes to thank the wonderful people who provided information. The staff of public libraries are a godsend to researchers of all stripes. I gratefully bow to these kind souls. Any mistake contained in this article is my fault, of course, not theirs.

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Rénald Fortier