Flying cars are a very popular topic of discussion these days. After all we were promised them by bad science fiction from 60’s and 70’s. In the year 2000 we all were all supposed to have our own flying car in our garage. Are we 10 years past that date, and still no flying vehicles. What gives?
Well, the short answer is that there was never any market for flying cars. It was one of these hasty future predictions that never really held much water to begin with. We don’t have flying cars, but it is definitely not because the lack of trying. Let me give you a little background on this.
Have you ever heard about Frank Piasecki? He was American aviation engineer who was responsible for building the second successful helicopter prototype in United States. He also known for his big dream:
. During one of his interviews he told LA Times that:
Any intelligent person who can learn to drive a car will be able to fly a postwar helicopter after a few easy lessons.
His PV-2 was embodiment of that dream. A one-man, personal transportation vehicle that would be very inexpensive to build, easy to maintain, relatively simple to pilot, and adopted to use regular fuel from the gas pump. It was for all intents and purposes a flying car. Piasecki, having no pilot license was still able to perform several test flights on this machine. Most memorable of which was one he did during a press presentation in 1943, when he took it to a nearby gas station, filled up his tank, and then flew to the local golf course, landing on the green. This exhibition aired on national TV catching eyes of many investors, and landing him a contract with US military. Piasecki and his team moved on to build industrial and and military helicopters. What happened to PV-2 prototype? It was retired. There was just no market for a personal helicopter back in the 40’s. Piasecki never gave up on his dream and created other flying-car like prototypes including the VZ-8 Airgeep which never caught on either.
Piasecki’s contemporary Moulton Taylor, another american aviation engineer and inventor had a very similar dream. Like Piasecki he made it his life-long mission to produce a viable flying car that could be marketed and sold to the public. He came close to fulfilling it with his Aerocar project – an actual flight capable car, with folding wings. Taylor flight tested the first prototype in 1949 and then spent the next 7 years trying to make it marketable. In 1956 he lucked out and struck a deal with Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV), and the project was slated for mass production. There was only one catch: to recoup their investments, LTV required at least 500 units to be ordered, before the production could start. Guess what happened? Despite his best efforts, Taylor was unable to secure even half that number of orders. So the whole project was scrapped. Taylor continued to build and sell roadable areoplane prototypes for the rest of his life.
Over the years there were many other similar projects such as Bryan Autoplane, Wagner Aerocar, Areauto PL.5C and AVE Mizar. Better than that, people are still building these. Let me name a few modern flying car projects that are developed as we speak: Terrafugia, Volante Aircraft and Moller M400.
The point is that flying cars existed and continue to exist – it’s just that the public interest does not. Why? Because there is just no need for flying personal vehicles. For most of our day-to-day activities cars work well enough. If you need to get somewhere fast, buying a seat on a commercial airliner is perfectly affordable – especially for domestic flights. Adding wings or rotors to cars wouldn’t really solve any of our transportation problems.
Which leads me to believe that when people whine about lack of flying cars, they don’t actually mean viable technology. They are talking about science-fiction hover cars that defy gravity and laws of physics. They want cars make that characteristic humming noise as they pass by. Sadly these future cars were not even hard SF – were just a naive fantastic prediction hinging on developing some sort of anti-gravity technology.
This happens though. Futurists get things wrong – we can only predict things up to a certain point, because things happen. New discoveries sometimes pop out of nowhere and change everything. Just watch the original Jetsons as an example: they have flying cars, sentient robots and video phones, but no internet and no cell phone networks. No global communication, no personal publishing from a hand held devices, no knowledge at your fingertips. In many ways we are much, much more advanced than them. Flying cars seem silly and irrelevant compared to what we have gained in the digital revolution.