Tony Fox: The Man Who Would Have Been King
By Elliot Borin, Air TaxiFlights.com
You've heard the story a thousand times. The carburetor that gets 120 miles per gallon. The Tesla Tower that shoots free electricity across the country without wires. The surefire cancer cure made from apricot pits, candle wax or three-legged tadpoles harvested under a full moon.
All those stories. All those miracles. Every one of them kept hidden from a desperate world by a conspiracy of greedy, unscrupulous vested interests ... drug companies, oil companies, electric utilities and, always, politicians.
All of those allegedly earth-shattering technologies thwarted by the powers that be. All of them sheer nonsense fantasies. Fairy tales.
Except for the Foxjet story, which just happens to be absolutely true.
Tony Fox's circa 1978 twin-engined, six-passenger Very Light Jet was, for a fact, 20 years ahead of its time and was, for another fact, blasted out of the sky by government edict. Now, several decades and many White House Administrations later, it's finally going into production with a solid backlog of about 400 orders, including the largest single order yet booked by any VLJ maker.
What's even more amazing is that today's Foxjet II is essentially the same aircraft as it was when designed in the late-70s. The only substantial changes are engine manufacturer, the use of Space Age carbon-fiber materials instead of metal and updated avionics and communications systems.
Designed to compete with the large, expensive, inefficient corporate jets of the day, the $500,000 Foxjet died when the U.S. government, in the words of the very authoritative bible of the aircraft world, Jane's All The World's Aircraft "refused civilian employment" of the aircraft's Williams WR44 engines and "forced abandonment of the project" after 50 percent of the engineering had been completed and four prototypes assembled.
Could Foxjet, if it had been free of government interference, singlehandedly have changed the VLJ from a 21st Century product to a 20th Century product? The answer to that, as the saying goes, is known but to God.
What is known to us, however, is Minnesota inventor par excellence Anthony "Tony" Fox's track record at developing products that launched industries. Like the jet ski, the trash compactor, the fiberglass gun that revolutionized boat building, and the tank-tracked ATV.
Tony Fox is 88 now and recently selected to enter the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame where he will be honored in the company of flying legends like Charles A. Lindburgh. Though he sold his interest in Foxjet International to Millennium Aerospace about two years ago, he's still diligently and productively working on what may yet turn out to be the greatest of his approximately 100 patented inventions.
Just recently, in fact, he developed an innovative electrically-powered taxi wheel that will make the Foxjet II the most maneuverable and "greenest" jet aircraft on earth during ground operations and he's also close to filing for a patent on new aircraft control-surface technology that may, someday, revolutionize wing and flap design.
A man who has, in his own words, spent his entire life "seeing things and wondering why," Tony was kind enough to share his memories of the Foxjet with us during an August 2008 conversation.
AirTaxiFlights.com: Prior to the Foxjet you'd already invented the trash compactor, which many people might say is, given the nature of garbage, getting pretty close to the ground, and the propulsion system for the jet ski. Having conquered both the land, or at least the landfill, and the water it was probably inevitable that you'd eventually turn your eyes toward the skies. Was there a particular event or set of circumstances that inspired you to design the Foxjet as opposed to, say, an ultralight or a glider or a rocket plane to compliment the rocket car you set a Bonneville land speed record in?
Tony Fox: It was actually Bill Lear who lit the spark. I'd rented a Lear 23 from him and one day when he and I were flying somewhere he said "Tony, you've built at least one of almost every other thing in the world, how come you've never thought about designing an airplane."
I thought about that a few minutes and said "Well, if I ever do design one it will haul about six people, be able to take off and land on short runways and operate at a fraction of the cost of other jets including your Learjets."
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