How Soon Can You Get Your Flying Car? How About Never?

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There’s been a lot of chatter about flying cars again this week after a New York Times story with an accompanying video showed the product of a Silicon Valley company called Kitty Hawk, which has produced a prototype of what’s being called a “flying car.”
Hogwash.

 
The 220-pound contraption Kitty Hawk produced looks like a pontoon boat had an illicit affair with a trampoline. How it’s related to a “car,” your guess is as good as ours. Most cars we know about have “wheels” that can be driven on a “road” which is protected from the “elements” and provide some level of “crashworthiness.”
Since the historically simultaneous dawn of self-propelled transportation and manned flight, enterprising inventors have developed concepts, studies, prototypes and even full-fledged products that promised that the imbecile in the next lane — texting while eating a bowl of clam chowder at 65 miles per hour — could soon bring his brand of distracted havoc to the skies.
In the last century, the technology has always existed to allow it. The problem is that in every single example, “enthusiasm” for a project like this has been the missing link. It might seem like a cool idea, but like the Amphicar, which melded a car with a boat, you end up with a vehicle that neither floats nor drives particularly well.
Here’s a look at some of the more interesting concepts, only one of which turned into a fully-fledged (see what we did there?) product:

Autogiro Company of America AC-35

In 1935, the Experimental Development Section of the Bureau of Air Commerce — a short-lived division of the Department of Commerce — contracted the Autogiro Company of America to build a streetable aircraft.

The design was a modification of the PA-22 autogyro that was built by Autogiro Company of America’s parent company, the Pitcairn Autogiro Company.

Yes, it’s the same aircraft, just with folding helicopter blades. It’s exactly the kind of thing that you’d want to use to hurtle down the highway, with the crash protection that only fabric can provide.

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Waterman Arrowplane

Wally Waterman built an absurd looking plane called a “Whatsit” in the 1930s, and adapted its design for the Waterman Arrowplane.

The Arrowplane was originally known as the “Arrowbile,” displaying Waterman’s marketing prowess. Everybody wants a flying car with the name “bile” in it.

These tiny-wheeled, tricycles were powered by a 100-hp Studebaker engine, with enormous wings and a pusher propeller that could be removed. It flew successfully, but they sold like coldcakes, and only five were ever produced.

ConVair Model 118 ConvAirCar

Most early “flying cars” were just some version of an existing aircraft that you’d taxi down the road, as if you lost your way off the runway. The ConVairCar, built in 1946, was actually a pretty cool looking little fiberglass car with a giant airplane attempting to mount it.

A rear-mounted, 25hp Crosley engine powered the car for road use, and a separate 190hp Lycoming engine powered the prop. The company anticipated producing 160,000 per year, at a price of $1,500.

During a test flight in 1947, the pilot checked the fuel gauge and took off, only to realize that he’d checked the Crosley engine’s fuel gauge, not the Lycoming engine’s fuel gauge. That engine was nearly dry of aviation fuel, and he had to ditch the plane in San Diego. Again, in 1948, “enthusiasm for the project waned” and the company went belly up

Fulton Airphibian

1950’s Fulton Airphibian went back to adapting an aircraft cockpit for road duty. It’s a little more innovative than some of the earlier schemes, because an entire section of the vehicle, which joins both the wing and the tail section disconnects, along with the propeller.

It became the first roadable airplane certified by the Civil Aeronautics Administration. Just a handful were ever built. Again, that pesky enthusiasm got in the way.

Aerauto PL.5C

Around the same time in Italy, Luigi Pellarini designed the Aerauto PL.5C. The advance in this design was that the wings folded, and were carried along with the car, rather than having to leave them at home, like the Airphibian. The less-desirable part of the design was the fact that it used a giant whirring propeller both in the air and on the road. Yes, it was at the rear, but pedestrians were still urged to stay clear.

Taylor Aerocar

The Taylor Aerocar was the most successful, most memorable blend of car an airplane. Moulton Taylor built the Aerocar after visiting Robert Fulton Jr. and seeing the Airphibian. Like the Aerauto, the Aerocar folded its wings and toted them along on a trailer for flight from anywhere. It attained CAA certification in 1956. In the air, the Aerocar could fly at around 11o mph, and on the road it could attain speeds up to 60 miles per hour. Six were built — four of the original design, and then one each that featured improvements. All six still exist, and several can still fly.

 

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Craig Fitzgerald

Craig Fitzgerald

Writer, editor, lousy guitar player, dad. Content Marketing and Publication Manager at BestRide.com.