Flying Cars, Past, Present, & Future

As a young child in the early 1960s I grew up hanging out in the garage with my father, at the marina with my grandfather, and at small local airports.  My interest in flying cars started about that time.  Around 1963 I was given a book called “The Golden Stamp Book of Automobiles of Today and Yesterday”.  I still have this book and the price tag on it was 42 cents.  The last car featured in the book was called the “Ford Dream Car”.  It was an atomic powered car that could fly.  It was around this time that the United States was in the space race with Russia.  In school, classes were stopped to watch our rockets being launched.  As a young child seeing the Ford Dream Car and watching rockets being launched into space, I became very excited about flying cars.  I would see sports cars of the 1960s like the Corvette Stingray and tell my dad that car could be made into a flying car.  I would often draw cars with wings on them.  The book I received in the 1960s has developed into a very large collection of flying car related memorabilia, models, books, videos, and other miscellaneous items.

Fast forward to the 1980s and I have my pilot’s license.  And my interest in flying cars was still there.  It was when I started using small aircraft to travel that I realized how practical a flying car would be.  After renting an airplane, I still needed to rent a car to get to my final destination.

Flying cars are just about as old as airplanes.  Glenn Curtiss is credited with having the first flying car.  It was 1917 When Glenn Curtiss showed the world his “Autoplane” at the Pan-American Aeronautical Exposition in New York City.  This was only 14 years after the Wright Bros first flew and just nine years after the Model T was introduced.

Over the 100 plus years of powered flight, there have been numerous attempts to build a flying car.  In the 1930s Waldo Waterman designed and built a 3 wheel flying car called the Aerobile.  The wings were detachable for ground operations.  Powered by a water cooled, six cylinder, Franklin (Tucker) engine, in the air, it was capable of speeds as high as 110 miles per hour.  A prototype flew in 1937, a total of six were made.  As with many of Waldo Waterman’s designs, this was tailless.

After the birth of powered flight and once the average person could get a pilot’s license, we soon discovered that general aviation aircraft only got you close to your destination.  Once you landed, you still needed ground transportation.  Flying cars/roadable aircraft were born practically out of necessity.   This is very true with Robert Fulton and his Airphibian.  During WWII Robert traveled a lot by small aircraft only to wait at the airport for his ground transportation.  He thought if only my small airplane could drive me to town.  And in 1946 Robert Fulton designed the Airphibian.  It could convert from plane to car in about 5 minutes with no tools.  It has been reported that the Airphibian was as easy to drive as it was to fly.  It could fly at speeds up to 110 MPH and 55 MPH on the ground.  The drawback to Fulton’s design was that you had to detach the wings and leave them at the airport.

Molt Taylor and his Aerocar made an appearance around 1950. Molt Taylor met Robert Fulton and saw his Airphibian.  Molt had a better idea.  Why not make the wings fold back and form a trailer?  This way if you had to land because of bad weather, you could continue on to your destination with the wings in tow.  Once the weather improved, reconnect the wings and you’re back in the air.  Two models of the Aerocar were build.

Fast forward to the 21st century we find the Switchblade, a 3 wheel flying motorcycle.   Still in the development stage, the plans are to offer the Switchblade as a kit.  The Switchblade is built of carbon fiber and other new light weight materials.  The company hopes to have a prototype flying by the end of 2019.

There is a flying car that you can purchase now.  The PAL-V built by the Dutch company PAL-V International BV.  Their vehicle is an autogyro or gyrocopter that is capable of being driving on public roads.  The last check of their website shows a price of $399,000 USD for their basic model.

These are just a few of the attempts to build and market a successful flying car or roadable aircraft.  Over the past 100 plus years there have been numerous attempts, some never making it past the drawing stage.

But as the 21st century begins, there are many visionary companies that see a world filled with cars that fly. Some are nearly ready for production, some will be all electric, some will be based on motorcycle frames.  The industry is in a technological revolution, much like cars at the dawn of the last century.

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