Why don’t we have flying cars yet?

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:

  • “a helicopter in every garage”
  • . 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.

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    8 Responses to Why don’t we have flying cars yet?

    1. Liudvikas LITHUANIA Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

      Well technology still needs to advance a little for flying cars to be a viable transportation option. The technology needs to get cheaper, before it can be marketed to the masses. Sure I would like to travel faster, but I definitely don’t want to spend shitload of money on the car and have it eat gas several times faster. Not to mention I’d need to get a pilots license which is harder and more expensive to get.
      These things need to be done before flying cars can be an option:
      1. Cheaper flying cars.
      2. More effective engines.
      3. A global autopilot which could see every single car on the sky and communicate with them in order to make travel safe.

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    2. IceBrain PORTUGAL Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

      @Liudvikas: there’s already ADS-B, a system where airplanes continuously broadcast their current location to nearby airplanes. It could very well be adapted to flying cars.

      But I disagree that “cars work well enough”. We spend years of our lives stuck in traffic (well, plenty of people do, I don’t). The problem is that these personal ‘copters don’t solve that problem.

      Personally, I think cars are ill-suited for most transportation problems.
      For 3-10 mile trips, mass transportation systems like subways are the most effective solution, and for larger trips, trains or even airplanes are cheaper and faster.
      For trips up to 3 miles, people should walk or cycle.

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    3. Zel FRANCE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

      As IceBrain said, airplane cars probably wouldn’t solve much. Where do traffic jams mostly occur ? Every day in major arteries linking suburbs to the nearest city, or at the beginning/end of holiday seasons. Having such flying cars could help with the latter, but the former would see no improvement at all. You would get closer to the city faster, but would have to wait forever circling a crowded sky for an available lane on which to land.

      Anti-Gravity cars on the other hand would solve both. There are ways to defy gravity without wings or air movement, electromagnetism and supraconductors for instance. Point is, it’s certainly possible to have what those crazy futurists dreamed of : small, silent personal vehicles capable of stationary flight. I don’t know of any flying car attempt that didn’t end up turning the car into an airplane or a helicopter at some point. Maybe it’s time to look for another solution ?

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    4. Liudvikas LITHUANIA Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

      @ IceBrain:
      Yes, but there are way less airplanes. We would need a new system if suddenly there were as much flying cars as there are humans.

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    5. Martinho Fernandes Google Chrome Windows says:

      I totally agree with IceBrain. Cars suck. We mostly use five-seat vehicles to transport one or two people, when we can use hundreds-seat vehicles to transport hundreds of people. The best part is, if transportation worked as IceBrain put it, we would reduce GHG emissions as well.

      @ Liudvikas:
      I don’t see how we could devise ways to make flying cars cheaper or more effective engines such that flying cars become better option without also allowing us to make regular ground cars an even better options. It might be doable, I just don’t see how.

      Also, a global auto-pilot system like you suggest would be great for our current ground-based cars. Unfortunately, it would be a nightmare to implement with the current state of affairs.

      @ Zel:
      Wouldn’t the magnetic fields required to bring a car and its cargo aloof be too powerful to allow vertical stacking of car lanes? Sure we could make cars out of plastic, but there will always be some electronics in there. And the other cars own magnetic fields. Seems a little too complex to get working. And without stacked lanes, what you get is just a normal car, but it doesn’t touch the ground. Cool, but not much of an improvement over what we have now.

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    6. Liudvikas LITHUANIA Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

      @ Martinho Fernandes:
      That is true, but currently you seriously need to want to get around faster to spend a lot of money. And flying cars aren’t accessible to everyone, like regular are.

      Global auto-pilot for ground-based cars would be way harder to implement. Sky is mostly free of any obstacles after all.

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    7. Martinho Fernandes Google Chrome Windows says:

      @ Liudvikas:
      I think the main difficulty of making an automated ground car network is the transition period. Having ad-hoc human drivers coexist with auto-pilot cars seems like trouble to me. Doing a hard shift without a transition period might be possible, but it would depend heavily on economics.

      As to the implementation, the logistics required to handle it shouldn’t be that difficult: knowing where everyone within a certain radius is, where everyone is going to and what routes everyone is taking to get there, it shouldn’t require too much effort to get a reasonably efficient heuristic approach working. Getting the cars to communicate with each other and the control systems is easy. We already have a similar system in place: the cell phone network. Unless we want to have these cars travel super-fast, any kind of communication latency (including computation time) should not cause trouble. Of course there would be built-in failsafes (say, if communication with Traffic Control is lost, the car gently stops and broadcasts a warning to everyone nearby).

      The same algorithms can be used for the sky version, adapted for the possibility of having more routes available. We can model the sky as a graph, just like we do with the roads. It’s a heavier graph, but the same algorithms would work as well. Even though the sky has no obstacles, isn’t it easier (and not that much worse, I guess) to work as if it did, i.e., to have aerial traffic lanes?

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    8. Science 11 year old CANADA Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

      @ Liudvikas:
      First of all making a flying car is now impossible, for example A Rocket Which is size of a building currently cost 10 million gas money,40 million materials. Now saying that to an ordanary car would cost a few 700,00. Im sure not everyone in the world is willing to spend 0.7 million just to fly when they can do $1000 instead. Second its impossible to lift a car, make it go ‘hummmmmmmm’ and just make all 16+ teens in the worlds be smart enough to get a good enough job to get 700,000 and a pilot licences. The materials to make a “flying car” would have no profit. for example a small jet currently cost 1 million to build for 1 person. 5 peoples wieght would cost atleast $40 on fuel each 10 miles not very cheap… Also imanage flying things in the air, a drunk person can crash down and not just hit him self but someone on the side walk/street.Oh look how would we make streets in the air?? how many people would hit buildings, Look at some countrys they dont even have Normal wheel cars yet. Lets wait a few more years or decades or centruys.

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