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Aerauto Prototype c1950.JPG

One of the best working flying cars came and went virtually without a trace in America in the late 1940s. Its handicap was that it was Italian designed, built, and flown.

Luigi Pellarini was about 30 years old when in 1944 he partnered with Carrozzeria Colli, a Milan motor vehicle and coach  building company, to build his first prototype flying car, the PL 1. That's it for biographical information available on him.

1964. Franco Belgiorno-Nettis discusses

Luigi Pellarini at right, in a 1964 photo

We do know he kept improving his prototypes and put out a new and improved model each of the next several years. L'Ala, an Italian magazine, published a description of his PL-2C, dubbed the Aerauto, in its October 1946 issue. Here's an excerpt, translated by Google and left untouched by me, despite some resulting confusion.

The PL 2 C is an entirely metallic tourism aircraft, very interesting from several points of view: in it, in fact, are various summaries architectural and instrumental features, which should make it very convenient and economical use. From the constructive point of view it is possible notice how its structure has been greatly simplified especially about the fuselage, compared to that of a normal aircraft. This naturally it is well reflected on the cost of manufacturing and therefore on the sale price, as well as on the cost of any repairs. More given that with folded wings, its dimensions are about 2.20 m width for 6 m of length it can easily move on one normal road, always with the propeller thrust, with the possibility then to bring the pilot to the front door and then be admitted to one normal garage.

The PL 2 C structure is of a particular type. Indeed we believe that it is patented and actually can not be denied that it is Interesting. The fuselage can be considered composed of a part of force, a real chassis, consisting of a tubular beam in welded sheet steel and a durall bodywork. On the beam are welded the castle in tubes that support the wing and the engine, as well as all the attacks of the controls, the cart, the seats and the empennages. There durall fairing covers the front of the beam and provides a to connect the wing to the engine and to the beam, as well as to form the cabin it is equipped with two side doors and is easily removable. The wing is cantilever monolongherone divided into a fixed central trunk, and in two collapsible semis. The folding is very easy; the folded wing remains suspended with the front attachment to the central trunk of the wing and fixed on special attacks placed on the corresponding drift. Structure the wing is entirely durall and the cover is 8/10 mm. The attacks are instead steel. Rivets were widely used in the wing tubulars, rather than nails, which were limited to more joints solicited. The ailerons have a metal frame in durall and a cover in canvas; they can be simultaneously lowered so as to work from flaps. The horizontal plane is of a similar structure to the wing; there fixed part (whose incidence is adjustable in flight with handwheel) is covered in durall, the mobile one is intelata. The vertical plane, split, is structurally similar to the horizontal. The trolley is tricycle with low pressure wheels, the rear wheels are equipped with brakes, while the front is connected to the pedals for the

ground displacements. The prototype engine is a 60-volt Valter that drives a propeller in a fixed step. The use of a CNA D IV is also envisaged.


The controls are of the usual bar and pedal type, the instrument panel the usual equipment of instruments, the brake is a pedal.


Features: 9,80m wingspan, 5,70m length, 1,60m height, wing surface 12sqm, elongation 8, weight empty 340kg, payload 210, total weight 550kg, wing load 45.8kg / sq m, maximum speed 190 (a 2000m), cruising 160kmh, minimum 70kmh, road speed 60kmh, practice altitude 4000m, autonomy 600km at cruising speed, max 750km, takeoff with ipersostentatori120m, landing 60m; consumption fuel 15 l / h, (ie the same as an 1100 or Ardea). The cost is 460,000 L without engine.

The following year's PL-3C also got magazine coverage, this time in Wing.

The Aerauto PL3 C is a small-powered tourism aircraft, single engine, bideriva, high wing with propeller and tricycle trolley. It is a two-seater double-seat side by side, with the possibility of a third party place placed behind the two places side by side. The fuselage beam, in high strength steel sheet with a circular section, formed by two half-shells welded to the autogenous, of simple and easy construction, it represents the longitudinal frame of the aircraft and comes to it welded directly into child seats, support for controls, cart, ribs for the support of the fairing, engine castle that also makes from connection to the wing and fletching. These constructive peculiarities allow to overcome constructive or manufacturing complications deriving from the various connecting elements (bolts, pins, clamps, platelets etc.) that are used in normal airplanes both in wood that in metal. ...

The power train consists of a Walter Micron III engine from 80CV at 2300g / m, 4-cylinder 4-cylinder reversed air-cooled, operating a two-bladed propeller with variable pitch in flight direct with the driving shaft. The motor is installed behind the side member of the central trunk, raised from the tail beam in order to allow the propeller rotation. It is supported by the same framework in pipes of welded steel that supports the wing. The bideriva type tailings built with two side members with edge of entry covered in durall sheet and the remaining in canvas. The rudders are statically balanced and balanced. The trolley is of the tricycle type with independent rear wheels and wheel front adjustable with disengageable command at will of the pilot. The the rear train can be retracted with a pilot's handy command e this in order to obtain greater grip on the front wheel during road travel, as in this case, adherence would come decreased by the withdrawal of the center of gravity of the aircraft as a result of the folding of the wings. ...

The cabin has been meticulously designed to offer maximum comfort with maximum simplicity and good taste both for pilots and passengers e such as to satisfy the most refined needs of both sportsmen and women business men. Visibility is excellent both in flight and on the road, so to allow an easy and safe driving. The aircraft is equipped with the Regulatory instrumentation for both in-flight and in-flight conduct road gear. Electrical signals such as the landing light, installed at the bow of the aircraft, taillights and clearance, arrows of signaling etc. they are powered by a 12V battery board that a customer request can also power the electric motor starter.

The PL-4 was publicly known as the Aerauto AER-1. L'Ala had a more consumer-oriented article in its July 15, 1948 issue.

We enter the field, anticipating the joy of attending the phases of the assembly and then of the flight. Loose a hook, the two axles rotate at the same time backwards, always resting on the two V-shaped uprights, until a detent clicks into place. Three seconds and the wings are fine. The same individual who had given up the hook of the semiali, raises now with ostentatious nonchalance, but with evident ease, the tail plans that they had been lying forward over their respective beams, below the propeller radius. This operation, even easier than the previous one, is was immediately followed by the application of the pins and split pins. Meanwhile, the car had already bought the beautiful line of a real airplane! With a few turns of a small crank, placed anteriorly to the engine castle, the propeller, with all the powerplant, returns on its horizontal axis. In a few minutes a single man, he had turned the car into an airplane ready for the flight. Someone, however, can object that so many different devices can compromise the structure and safety of the machine itself. instead just look at the robustness of the whole cell (all metal, with beams and longitudes in durall), the different small ingenious applications and its empty weight of 430kg, because such suspects vanish immediately and be given to think that we are at an interesting realization. Lusinga then know that he was perfectly successful where, in countries provided with better means and technical equipment, no lower and modest results were obtained. Another then (one of those who have it always with the lords of the Ministry) has found the advantage to be able to drive their own airplane home, because nobody thinks of building hangar ...! But regardless of the different qualities of this machine, maybe that lover will not miss that, vanity aside, he will buy it only for the pleasure of owning an airplane with the clakson, the arrows and the plate ...

By 1949, Pellarini thought that his new model, the PL-5C, was ready for the public. Piloted by Leonardo Bonzi and Maner Lualdi, the Aerauto drove and flew across Italy from late 1949 to early 1950, 1800 km in the air and 2200 km on the ground, stopping at Turin, Florence, Pisa, Rome, Naples, Bari, Ancona, Rimini, Venice, Treviso, Vicenza and Milan. The Aerauto would fly to a location outside of a city, fold up its wings, and drive into the city proper, exactly as a commercial flying car was supposed to work. At the end, Pellarini grandly presented the Aerauto to the Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Schuster.

Pellarini brings the Aerauto to the Arch
Pellarini presents the Aerauto to the Archbishop of Milan

Naturally, this great stunt garnered even more publicity, with Tempo magazine displaying a picture of the Aerauto, Pellarini, Bonzi, and Lualdi on a public street, taking up no more room than the cars behind them.

TEMPO magazine with the photo of the Aer

Even better, A British Pathé newsreel documented the Aerauto on the ground and in the air. It looks great.

Pellarini immediately filed a U.S. patent application for a "Folding Wing for Roadable Aircraft," which was granted after much delay in 1954.

Pellarini patent application for roadabl

That was far too late. Flying cars are hard to sell at the best of times, and Italy's economy in 1950 in no way lived up to that. Pellarini got, in fact, no orders at all. He gave up and like many another European emigrated in search of a richer clientele. But not to America. To Australia. He must have thought that Australia's huge distances and few cities made for a perfect market for a dual auto/airplane. The Australian press thought so: they showered him with articles as soon as he arrived.

1952-12-27 Burnie [Tasmania] Advocate 6
1952-12-06 Newcastle [NSW] Morning Heral
1952-12-19 Bourke [NSW] Western Herald 9

Nope, and nope again. Australians were no more inclined to buy flying cars than Italians or Americans.

Nevertheless, Pellarini's story has a happy ending. Australians needed planes, good, small, rugged, multi-purpose planes. Pellarini gave them the Airtruk.

1964-07-29 Sydney Morning Herald 11 Luig
Pellarini and executives show off Airtru

Pellarini, second from left, and company executives show off an Airtruk model.

An article on makes clear the worth of the mighty little plane:

Transavia PL-12 Airtruk was developed from the Bennett Airtruck designed in New Zealand by Luigi Pellarini. It has a 2200 lb capacity hopper. Initially designed as a specialized agricultural aircraft, it was refined over the years and used for many purposes. The Air Truk can be used as a cargo, military surveillance and medivac roles, aerial survey aircraft, and, amazingly, carry one passenger in the top deck and four in the lower deck. Many were exported to countries such as Denmark, Yugoslavia, Spain, Africa, China and New Zealand. The Airtruk is still in use as an agricultural aircraft.


Pellarini's career is summed up by the Rolling Stones. He tried to give people the flying car he thought they wanted, but wound up giving them the tough little plane they really needed.

March 16, 2019

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