Flying cars are considered to signal the arrival of the future – or rather, the lack of its arrival. They have been promised by inventors for decades, and always seem to be just around the corner, but have never become commercially available.
Mass-produced flying cars are still not likely to be around the next bend. They face many possible problems, but NASA recently completed a study about making more use of the roughly 3000 small airports in the United States.
In the 1960s, flying cars were popular in fiction. The Jetsons, a cartoon family living in the year 2062, travelled by flying car. In more recent movies, Harry Potter travelled to Hogwarts aboard the Weasleys’ flying car, while Lucy Wilde’s car had extendable wings that enabled a
quick getaway in Despicable Me 2.
Keys to the real world
Flying cars are almost as old as flying aeroplanes, but none have really made it past the test stage to become widely available. In 1917, less than 15 years after the Wright brothers flew the fi st aeroplane at Kittyhawk in the United States, Glenn Curtiss invented a car with three wings and a propeller.
Robert Fulton tried something different in 1946. Instead of modifying a car to make a plane, he modified a plane into a car. His ‘Airphibian’ could be converted into a car in five minutes by removing the wings, tail and propeller. The following year, plans to build 160 000 cars with a huge wing, propeller and tail were abandoned after a crash when it ran out of fuel. Although the pilot had checked the car’s fuel gauge, the separate propeller engine’s tank was empty.
Henry Ford predicted in 1940 that ‘a combination airplane and motorcar is coming.’ He worked with engineers in the Ford company’s aircraft division to develop the first ‘aerocar’. The result was the Ford Flivver, a single-seat plane that could be driven along a road. However, the prototype was described by famous pilot Charles Lindbergh as one of the worst planes he’d ever flown. Furthermore, the Flivver’s test pilot was killed in a crash off the Florida coast, which stopped the small plane’s development. Henry Ford declared in the 1950s that, ‘the day where there will be an aerocar in every garage is still some time off.’
For more on this and 41 other inventions of the future, check out our book, Imagining the Future: Invisibility, Immortality and 40 Other Incredible Ideas, by Simon Torok and Paul Holper (CSIRO Publishing), http://www.publish.csiro.au/pid/7344.htm.