During the mid-1950s, engineers at Goodyear Aerospace attempted to reinvent the airplane. Neither tire nor blimp but kin of both, the creation was dubbed the Inflatoplane — an inflatable airplane made of a neoprene-cloth hybrid.
Intended to allow downed pilots to flee from behind enemy lines into friendly territory, the design — inflated with a bowling ball-sized can of air — measured about 20 feet long with a 22-foot wingspan. When deflated, the bundle fit into the trunk of a station wagon and potentially could be airdropped in for a rescue.
Although novel, the Inflatoplane was not the most airworthy craft. The pictured test pilot, Dick Ulm, debuted the plane in 1956, telling assembled reporters it was the "most unusual plane I ever flew." During an April 1959 test flight in Maryland, the wing of Ulm's Inflatoplane collapsed, forcing him to parachute to safety.
Two months later, Army Lt. Malcolm B. Wallace bailed out of an Inflatoplane over Goodyear's Wingfoot Lake facility in Mogadore — still one of Goodyear's three airship bases. The plane's external motor had somehow become disconnected from the body. The plane was unharmed, but Wallace died when his parachute failed to open.
Twelve Inflatoplanes were manufactured before the project was abandoned in 1973. The prototype is in the collection of the Ohio History Connection in Columbus. It was donated by a former Goodyear employee, who found it discarded in a dumpster.