Sometimes life offers you some pretty fun compromises. When I was 14 my dad gave me an amazing offer: get braces, or get a pilots license. As many people would guess, to this day I have an awesomely crooked grin. Flying is a great pastime and gives you a new perspective of the world, opening up remote locations that would take hours or days to access by car… if you can get there at all. There is one glaring issue with flying however: once you land to that blazingly hot parking lot they call an airport, how do you get where you really want to go? Enter the flying car or roadable aircraft.
We’ve been promised flying cars for almost a century now. Here’s the dream: the ability to drive from home to a runway; convert to flying mode; fly quickly in a straight line (“as the crow flies”) to our destination; pop off or fold the wings, then cruise in comfort to our mountain retreat or palm lined beach… not to mention beating the morning commute from above. So where are our flying cars?? Besides a few promising examples from today, the answer lies mainly in the past.
We’ve rounded up a few of the most interesting examples of classic flying cars and a few of the most promising ideas from today. These examples show that, with a few notable examples, we’re still using the same ideas from 75 years ago when trying to get the car airborne. Until someone solves this complex problem (one full of interesting compromises) it looks like we’ll be stuck in traffic or thumbing a lift from the airport.
Above: The Curtiss Autoplane, invented by famed aviator Glenn Curtiss in 1917, is widely considered the first attempt to build a flying car. It could hop off the ground but never achieved full flight.
Below: The prototype Skroback Roadable Airplane was completed in 1934. To keep the aircraft within a reasonable width for driving with fixed wings, the inventor used many wing surfaces along the length of the vehicle. It was determined that it lacked rudder authority on the ground and never successfully flew.
The Autogiro Company of America AC-35 was a successful flying car which flew in 1936 and used an unpowered folding rotor for lift. It could fly quite quickly in the air, but only hit 25 mph on the ground. Sadly, it never entered production.
The Waterman Arrowbile was a tailless, two-seat, single-engine, pusher configuration flying car built in 1937. It flew safely but generated little customer interest and only five were produced.
One of the remaining Arrowbiles hangs in the National Air and Space Museum
The Fulton FA-2 Airphibian was a clever design that left the wings and tail behind at the airport. It was introduced in 1946 but only 4 were completed before financial concerns forced the company to be sold and no further planes were produced.
The Convair Model 118 ConvAirCar was a prototype flying car that really looked like a car. In total the machine completed 66 test flights, including an engine out landing when it ran out of fuel. Reportedly, the pilot had checked the car’s fuel gauge and not the one for the airplane engine!
The Taylor Aerocar is one of the most successful roadable aircraft and has a large following of fans. Just 6 were produced, but there are still examples which fly today. It’s clever design used the same engine to power the wheels and propeller, and the wings folded into a trailerable configuration so you could take them with you on the ground.
The Bryan Autoplane was a series of 3 experimental designs which employed folding wings to fit on the road, and used their propellers for propulsion both in the air and on the ground (crazy!). The designer Leland Bryan put over 5000 miles on the ground and over 100 hours in the air before a poorly secured wing folded in flight taking his life.
The Wagner FJ-V3 Aerocar was a futuristic design that looked a lot like the Jetson’s car, used counter-rotating rotors for lift and a hydraulic linkage from the engine to power its tiny wheels. It carried 4 passengers and first flew in 1965
The AVE Mizar first flew in 1973. It was an experimental prototype which combined portions of a Cessna Skymaster with a Ford Pinto. The program ended when the wing struts on the overloaded airframe broke in flight, ending in a fireball.
Now we get to some of the most recent ideas. The Terrafugia Transition is close to production and features folding wings, a pusher propeller and twin tails. It also includes an airframe parachute to bring the entire car/plane down should anything go drastically wrong.
The I-TEC Maverick uses a large powered parachute configuration and a body built to work like a dune buggy. It doesn’t fly quickly, but is designed to get you into remote places safely and get you around once on the ground.
The Pal-V One is perhaps the most advanced of the roadable aircraft nearing the market. It uses a semi-powered rotor on a movable boom for lift and a pusher propeller for thrust. Once on the ground this speedy thing folds up like a transformer and shoots away at incredible speeds.