The Aerocar


A Portsmouth venture, embraced by an Indian Maharajah

Christopher Balfour

Available now directly from the publishers Tricorn Books price £15 plus P&P - click to go to Amazon also at the Aviation Bookstore Tunbridge Wells


In his monumental book, British Private Aircraft, 1946–1970, Arthur Ord-Hume put a picture of the Aerocar on the cover of Volume 2. In the section describing this British venture he writes:

As peace loomed, the Directors of Portsmouth Aviation [my father, Lionel Balfour, and Francis Luxmoore] embarked on the design and construction of a really practical twin engine aeroplane. It performed perfectly. Everyone who flew it spoke glowingly of its handling and performance. The orders started rolling in but the company had no money to make that leap into aircraft production. Nobody wanted to help. An outstanding design was thus crippled by National political failure to provide any aid whatsoever to a small but established firm that happened to be onto a winner and holding a full order book. Had but a fraction of the aid given elsewhere been available to Luxmoore and Balfour, the Aerocar would have returned its investment by way of rich earnings. Abandoned projects like the V-1000, TSR 2, and others are well remembered. Whilst the Aerocar was at least as serious a loss to aviation, it is regrettably forgotten today.

Lionel Balfour and his colleague, Francis Luxmoore, sought to develop a radical aeroplane to challenge the cumbersome  pre-war aircraft that were available in the 1930s. With convenience and comfort in mind, the Aerocar prototype G-AGTG was tested and orders started rolling in. All they needed to do was finance it.

Their journey took them to the United States, Canada and then India, where the support and generosity of the Jam Saheb of Nawanagar, a maharajah of one of the princely states, helped them with their endeavour. But with the onset of Partition, the Aerocar’s future was doomed. Using previously unseen documents, and notes from his father’s archives, Christopher Balfour tells the story of this very British endeavour.

review Geoff Kingston 2019

This is a very personal account of a valiant attempt by Lionel Balfour and Francis Luxmoore to bring into production in the early post war period a truly innovative light twin engined aircraft which had the potential to revolutionise that sector of the market.
Their first hand experience as aircraft operators both before and during the war lead them to incorporate a number of ideas which made the Areocar a very versatile proposition and an aircraft that was designed to be both easy and economical to operate and maintain.

Sadly as is so often the case the project was ultimately frustrated by Governments lack of foresight and bad decision making here and in India.

Written by Lionel's son Christopher who was in his early teens at the time this book; is like delving into a family scrapbook and it is written with the insight and involvement that can only come when the author has been this close to the subject.
Christopher had access to and has incorporated into the book all sorts of period information and the specification sheets and extracts from the maintenance notes will keep the technically minded interested for hours. There are some of the aviation press articles reproduced , production pictures drawings and reports from the air shows where the prototype was flown and displayed, notes of meetings and photos of correspondence that draw you into the story.

This was a book that when I picked it up I did not want to put down, wanting to see exactly how the story had unfolded and knowing that there were lots of things from period reproduced therein to come back and savour.
I confess to being more of an old car man with a great interest in that period but this had me hooked and I think Aerocar will be of great interest not only to Aviation enthusiasts young and old but to anyone with an interest in the development of transport in the early post war years.

For me it also made me appreciate and understand more fully the impact of our withdrawal from India in the late 40's and how differently things could have turned out.