When most people think of flying cars, they think of the Jetsons TV show, and speculate that, maybe one day in the far-off future, people may drive flying cars. You might be surprised to know that flying cars have been in development since the 1930s--even before the Jetsons.
Maybe it shouldn't be that surprising, though. After all, we have cars, and we have planes--is it that far-fetched to combine the two? There is serious research going on today to investigate the possibilities for flying cars. One of the biggest events, AeroTech 2007, hosted by the Society for Automotive Engineers (SAE), will be held next week at the Los Angeles Convention Center. In preparation for the future, here's a look at some of the most famous flying cars during the past century. (Please note that this is an incomplete list, and that other experiments with flying cars were not intentionally left out.)
The W-5 Arrowbile, designed in 1936, was called a "hybrid flying auto." On roads, the all-metal, three-wheeled Arrowbile could travel up to 70 mph; and in the air, 120 mph. Because it had three wheels and a single headlight, the DMV actually classified it as a motorcycle. The Arrowbile was quite easy to operate, as demonstrated by the fact that a businessman with only 35 hours' flight experience flew one from Washington, D.C. in his business suit. http://www.aerofiles.com/water.html
Aerocar restored in 2006
One of the most famous flying cars is Aerocar's Aerocar, built in 1946, which was called a "roadable aircraft." Designed by Moulton Taylor, the Aerocar had wings that folded up, allowing the car to be easily converted into flight mode by a single person in just five minutes. When the rear license plate was flipped up, the propeller shaft and a pusher propeller could be attached. When driving on the road, the wings and tail unit were simply towed behind the vehicle. As a car, the Aerocar could drive up to 60 miles per hour, and had a top airspeed of 110 miles per hour. http://www.aerocar.com/
The AVE Mizar (named after the star), was built in 1971 by Henry Smolinski. The flying car was a true hybrid, with the front half modeled on a Ford Pinto and the back half consisting of a Cessna Skymaster plane. For taking off, the flying car used both the car engine and the aircraft engine, and the car engine was shut off once the car was airborne. AVE had scheduled production for 1974, but unfortunately, the year before, one of the models got in an accident during a test flight. The right wing detached and the Pinto was separated from the wings, resulting in a fiery crash that killed Smolinski and the pilot. The car was said to have been slightly over the weight limit during the trial, but the Mizar legend ended with the crash. http://www.fordpinto.com/mitzar1.htm
Strong Mobile Magic Dragon
The Strong Mobile Magic Dragon Aircar has been worked on by retired Air Force pilot-engineer Rich Strong over the past 50 years. Strong hopes to entice business travelers to invest in a Magic Dragon Aircar, which he claims can fly a few hundred miles in a few hours-or, about twice the speed of a car on the highway. The aircar also works both on the roads and in the air, with the wings folding up in the body when in drive mode, and in flight mode, a duct fan on the front of the aircar provides propulsion. The model will also be presented at SAE AeroTech 2007 next week at the LA Convention Center on Wednesday, September 19. http://www.strongware.com/dragon/
LaBiche Aerospace FSC-1
The LaBiche Aerospace FSC-1 is one of the modern flying cars, currently in development. The FSC-1 has the unique ability of automatically converting from aircraft to car at the touch of a button. Also, while most flying cars require a pilot's license, designers are working on a very interesting feature for the FSC-1: a new satellite-navigation "hands free" flight system would allow users to travel from airport to airport, eliminating the need for a pilot's license (upon FAA approval). For something very sci-fi, you can watch a scheme of the car transforming itself into a plane here . http://www.labicheaerospace.com/
Haynes Aero Skyblazer
The Haynes Aero Skyblazer is another work in progress. The Skyblazer is expected to have a top speed of 400 mph, and a range of up to 830 miles. The vehicle uses a single turbofan engine, which would provide thrust for flying, and generate electricity to power an electric motor for driving. http://www.haynes-aero.com/Netscape/frames.html
Urban Aeronautics X-Hawk
One of the most recent flying cars to appear in the news is the Urban Aeronautics X-Hawk, which is a "Vertical Take-Off and Landing" (VTOL) vehicle, similar to a helicopter. But unlike a helicopter, the X-Hawk is safer because its rotors are not exposed, but rather enclosed in large ducts. The X-Hawk is being aimed at emergency programs for search and rescue missions, since it can hover close to a building or achieve other positions unattainable by traditional aircraft. Urban Aeronautics and designer Rafi Yoeli expect to have the X-Hawk available by 2010, for a price of $3 million. http://www.urbanaero.com/Urban_Main.htm
The Terrafugia Transition is also currently in development, and the company hopes to release this "personal air vehicle" in late 2009. As opposed to the X-Hawk, the Transition is aimed at general consumers, as it can hold two passengers with "room for luggage." The Transition could fly for up to 500 miles on a single tank of unleaded premium gasoline. The expected price, at $148,000, is almost reasonable. http://www.terrafugia.com/
So flying cars are not a new thing. However, there are several companies today with high hopes for producing flying cars in the surprisingly near future. Hopefully, we'll be hearing more about them.