Flying car (aircraft)

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This article discusses flying cars in science fiction and fantasy; for real-world flying cars see Roadable aircraft. For similar uses, see Flying car.
"Where's my flying car?" on the March 2008 cover of Popular Science, a technology magazine that has reported on flying cars and other futuristic aircraft throughout the 20th century.

A flying car is hypothetical personal aircraft that provides door-to-door aerial transportation (e.g., from home to work or to the supermarket) as conveniently as a car but without the requirement for roads, runways or other specially-prepared operating areas. In addition, the aircraft lacks any visible means of lift (unlike fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters), thus allowing it to be operated in urban areas and close to buildings, people and other obstructions. The term "flying car" has also been used to refer to roadable aircraft and hovercars.

The flying car has been depicted in works of fantasy and science fiction such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, The Jetsons, Star Wars, Blade Runner, Back to the Future Part II and The Fifth Element as well as in technology magazines such as Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, and Mechanix Illustrated.[1]

The flying car was and remains a common feature of science fiction and conceptions of the future, including imagined near futures such as those of the 21st century. As an example, less than a month before the turn of the millennium the U.S. journalist Gail Collins noted:

Here we are, less than a month until the turn of the millennium, and what I want to know is, what happened to the flying cars? We're about to become Americans of the 21st century. People have been predicting what we'd be like for more than 100 years, and our accoutrements don't entirely live up to expectations. (...) Our failure to produce flying cars seems like a particular betrayal since it was so central to our image.[2]

As a result, flying cars have also been referred to jokingly with the question "Where's my flying car?", emblematic of the supposed failure of modern technology to match futuristic visions that were promoted in earlier decades.[notes 1]

Notable flying cars in fiction[edit]

The DeLorean time machine from Back to the future

Back to the future II (1989)[edit]

In Back to the Future part II Doc Brown invites Marty and Jennifer in his modified flying car DeLorean time machine and time travels to the year 2015 where flying hovercars are a common sight.

Star Wars (1977-2005)[edit]

Flying cars can be seen in the republic city of Coruscant in all three Star Wars Prequel movies, from 1999's The Phantom Menace on. They are featured prominently in Attack of the Clones, where an early chase sequence involves flying cars. In 2005's Revenge of the Sith, Bail Organa rides a retro-futuristic vehicle that apart from its flying ability resembles a 1950-style car.

Already the very first Star Wars film, 1977's Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, featured a wheel-less "speeder" which however only hovered just above ground.

Blade Runner (1982)[edit]

A screenshot from the film shows a line of police vehicles with flashing lights flying high above a smog-covered cityscape. Below them several small pinpoints of light from aircraft-avoidance lights on the tops of towers are all that can be seen of the city
Police spinners flying above Los Angeles in Blade Runner

"Spinner" is the generic term for the fictional flying cars used in Blade Runner, set in futuristic-cyberpunk Los Angeles of 2019. A Spinner can be driven as a ground-based vehicle, and take off vertically, hover, and cruise using jet propulsion much like Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft. They are used extensively by the police to patrol and survey the population, and it is clear that despite restrictions wealthy people can acquire spinner licenses.[4] The vehicle was conceived and designed by Syd Mead who described the spinner as an "aerodyne"—a vehicle which directs air downward to create lift, though press kits for the film stated that the spinner was propelled by three engines: "conventional internal combustion, jet, and anti-gravity"[5] Mead's conceptual drawings were transformed into 25 working vehicles by automobile customizer Gene Winfield.[6] A Spinner is on permanent exhibit at the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle, Washington.[7]


The Fifth Element (1997)[edit]

In The Fifth Element, set in 2263 New York City, flying cars are used as main mean of transportation. The production design for the film was developed by French comics creators Jean Giraud[8] and Jean-Claude Mézières.[9] Mézières wrote the book The Circles of Power, which features a character named S'Traks, who drives a flying taxicab through the congested air traffic of the vast metropolis on the planet Rubanis. Besson read the book and was inspired to change the Dallas character to a taxicab driver who flies through a futuristic New York City. The costume design was created by French fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier.[10][11]

Real-world flying cars[edit]

Early developments[edit]

In 1926, Henry Ford displayed an experimental single-seat aeroplane that he called the "sky flivver". The project was abandoned two years later when a distance-record attempt flight crashed, killing the pilot.[12] The Flivver was not a flying car at all, but it did get press attention at the time, exciting the public that they would have a mass-produced affordable airplane product that would be made, marketed, sold, and maintained just like an automobile. The airplane was to be as commonplace in the future as the Model T of the time.

In 1940, Henry Ford famously predicted: "Mark my word: a combination airplane and motorcar is coming. You may smile, but it will come.”

In 1956, Ford's Advanced Design studio built the Volante Tri-Athodyne, a 3/8 scale concept car model. It was designed to have three ducted fans, each with their own motor, that would lift it off the ground and move it through the air. In public relation release, Ford noted that "the day where there will be an aero-car in every garage is still some time off", but added that "the Volante indicates one direction that the styling of such a vehicle would take".[13]

In 1957, Popular Mechanics reported that Hiller Helicopters is developing a ducted-fan aircraft that would be easier to fly than helicopters, and should cost a lot less. Some estimated that in 10 years a four-place fan would cost like a good car. Hiller engineers expected that this type of an aircraft would become the basis for a whole family of special-purpose aircraft.[14]

In 1956, the US Army's Transportation Research Command began an investigation into "flying jeeps", ducted-fan-based aircraft that were envisioned to be smaller and easier to fly than helicopters. In 1957, Chrysler, Curtiss-Wright, and Piasecki were assigned contracts for building and delivery of prototypes. They all delivered their prototypes, however Piasecki's VZ-8 was the most successful of the three. While it would normally operate close to the ground, it was capable of flying to several thousand feet, proving to be stable in flight. Nonetheless, the Army decided that the "Flying Jeep concept [was] unsuitable for the modern battlefield", and concentrated on the development of conventional helicopters. In addition to the army contract, Piasecki was developing the Sky Car, a modified verision of its VZ-8 for civilian use.

In the mid-1980s, former Boeing engineer, Fred Barker, founded Flight Innovations Inc and began the development of the Sky Commuter, a small duct fans-based VTOL aircraft. It was a compact, 14-foot-long two-passenger and was made primarily of composite materials.[15] In 2008, the remaining prototype was sold for £86k on eBay.[16]

Xplorair PX200 (1/2 scale model) at Paris Air Show 2013.

Modern developments[edit]

Urban Aeronautics' X-Hawk[17] is a VTOL turbojet powered aircraft announced in 2006 with a first flight planned for 2009. It was intended to operate much like a tandem rotor helicopter, but with ducted fans rather than exposed rotors. The requisite decrease in rotor size would also decrease fuel efficiency. The X-Hawk was being promoted for rescue and utility functions. As of 2013, no flights had been reported.

The Moller Skycar M400[18] is a prototype personal VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) aircraft which is powered by four pairs of in-tandem Wankel rotary engines, and is approaching the problems of satellite-navigation, incorporated in the proposed Small Aircraft Transportation System. Moller also advises that, currently, the Skycar would only be allowed to fly from airports & heliports. Moller has been developing VTOL craft since the late 1960s, but no Moller vehicle has ever achieved free flight out of ground effect. The proposed Autovolantor model has an all-electric version powered by Altairnano batteries.[19]

On May 7, 2013, Terrafugia announced the TF-X, a plug-in hybrid tilt-rotor vehicle that would be the first fully autonomous flying car. It has a range of 500 miles per flight and batteries are rechargeable by the engine.

The Xplorair PX200 is a French project of single-seater VTOL aircraft without rotating airfoil, relying on the Coandă effect and using an array of small jet engines called thermoreactors embedded within tiltwings' body. Announced in 2007, the project has been funded by the Government of France and is now supported by various aerospace firms. A full-scale drone is scheduled for flight at Paris Air Show 2017, followed by the commercialization of a single-seater flying car in the years after.

The SkyRider X2R is is a prototype of a flying car developed by MACRO Industries, Inc. It is lighter than the Moller Skycar.

Feasibility and challenges[edit]

Several challenges to a practical flying car exist.

Engineering[edit]

A practical flying car would have to be capable of safely taking off, flying and landing throughout heavily populated urban environments. However, to date, no vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) vehicle has ever demonstrated such capabilities. To produce such an aircraft would require a propulsion system that is quiet, to avoid noise complaints, and has non-exposed rotors so it could be flown safely in urban environments. Additionally, for such aircraft to become airborne, they would require very powerful engines. Many types of aircraft technologies and form factors have been suggested, such as ducted-fan and tiltrotor vehicles,[20] but most previous designs have suffered from problems; ducted-fan aircraft tend to easily lose stability and have difficulty travelling greater than 30–40 knots,[21] while tiltrotors, such as the V-22 Osprey, are generally noisy and have suffered both incidents and crashes.

Economics[edit]

Due to the requirement of propulsion that is both small and powerful, the cost of producing a flying car would be very high and estimated by some as much as 10 million dollars.[22] In addition, the flying car's energy efficiency would be much lower compared to conventional cars and other aircraft; optimal fuel efficiency for airplanes is at high speeds and high altitudes,[23] while flying cars would be used for shorter distances, at higher frequency, lower speeds and lower altitude. For both environmental and economic reasons, flying cars would be a tremendous waste of resources.

Safety[edit]

Although statistically flying is safer than driving, unlike commercial planes, flying cars might not have as many safety checks and their pilots would not be as well trained. Humans already have problems with the aspect of driving in two dimensions (forward and backwards, side to side), adding in the up and down aspect would make "driving" or flying as it would be, much more difficult.[24] In mid-air collisions and mechanical failures, the aircraft could fall from the sky or go through an emergency landing, resulting in deaths and property damage.[25] In addition, poor weather conditions, such as low air density, lightning storms and heavy rain or fog could be challenging and affect the aircraft's aerodynamics.[26]

In popular culture[edit]

Complaints of the non-existence of flying cars have become nearly idiomatic as expressions of disappointment in the failure of the present to measure up to the glory of past predictions.

The December 30, 1989 Calvin and Hobbes comic strip depicted an early instance of the "Where are the flying cars?" idea:

Also the March 15, 1992 Calvin and Hobbes comic strip featured Calvin and his mom and dad driving on the freeway. Calvin complains to them "When are we going to get there? Can't you Drive any Faster?" to which his dad replied "I don't like to go much faster than this." Then Calvin convinces his parents to let him drive. Then they stopped the car, allowed Calvin to drive very fast, turned on flight mode and made their car fly high in the sky and Calvin has fun. At the end of the strip Calvin complains to his parents "How Much Longer?" which his dad replies "I told you we'll get there when we get there."[28]

Aired on January 8, 1998, Seinfeld's 167th episode, The Dealership, feautured Geoege and Jerry at a car dealership, complaining about the non-existence of the flying cars that were promised since their early childhood, to which Jerry humoursly added: "It's like we're living in the '50s here."

A 2001 IBM television commercial featured Avery Brooks (know for his role as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Captain Benjamin Sisko) complaining "It is the year 2000, but where are the flying cars? I was promised flying cars. I don’t see any flying cars. Why? Why? Why?"[29]

Comedian Lewis Black had a similar routine early in the decade: "This new millennium sucks! It's exactly the same as the old millennium! You know why? No flying cars!"[citation needed]

The Flying Car was a humorous short film written by Kevin Smith in 2002 for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. It featured Dante Hicks and Randal Graves stuck in traffic, discussing the lengths to which a man might go to obtain such a vehicle.[30]

In 2008, The Onion News Network's 245th episode, titled "Mean Automakers Dash Nation's Hope for Flying Cars", featured The Onion's anchor Brandon Armstrong humorously argueing about the feasibility and existence of flying cars with representatives from three major automobile manufacturers - General Motors, Toyota and Ford.[31]

In fiction[edit]

In live action films[edit]

In live action television series[edit]

In Animation[edit]

In video games[edit]

In literature[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ For example, see Scott, 2007, where she asks "This is not 1901, we all own pocket-sized remote voice receiver/transmitters. The glittering, futuristic year of 2000 was done and dusted over seven years ago... The future is now — so where is my flying car?"[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Onosko, Tim. Wasn't the Future Wonderful?: A View of Trends and Technology From the 1930s, Dutton, 1979, pp. 24, 51, 152–153, ISBN 0-525-47551-6.
  2. ^ "Future shock: Why there'll be no flying cars". The Post and Courier. Google News Archive. 12 December 1992. Retrieved 15 September 2013. 
  3. ^ Scott, Katy (September 11, 2007), "Where is my flying car?", 3rd Degree, retrieved 2013-09-16 
  4. ^ Sammon, pp. 79–80
  5. ^ The top 40 cars from feature films: 30. POLICE SPINNER, ScreenJunkies.com, March 30, 2010, retrieved July 27, 2011, though press kits for the film stated that the spinner was propelled by three engines: "conventional internal combustion, jet and anti-gravity". 
  6. ^ Willoughby, Gary, BladeZone's Gary Willoughby has a One on One chat with Gene Winfield, the builder of the full size cars and spinners from the classic film Blade Runner., Bladezone, retrieved July 27, 2011 
  7. ^ EMPSFM Brochure, Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, retrieved July 27, 2011 [dead link]
  8. ^ Heller, Jason (10 March 2012). "R.I.P. Moebius, comics legend and Métal Hurlant co-founder". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 11 May 2013. 
  9. ^ Anders, Charlie (1 July 2012). "Luc Besson adapting classic time-travel comic created by Fifth Element concept artist". io9. Retrieved 11 May 2013. 
  10. ^ Teichner, Martha (22 January 2012). "Jean Paul Gaultier: Fashion's wild child". CBS News. Retrieved 11 May 2013. 
  11. ^ Sehajpal, Ashima (8 July 2011). "FLIRTING with change". The Tribune. Retrieved 11 May 2013. 
  12. ^ Popular Science: Looking back at Henry Ford's Flivver: A plane-car for the man of average means, December 2001
  13. ^ Joseph J. Cor, Brian Horrigan (May 15, 1996). Yesterday's Tomorrows: Past Visions of the American Future. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0801853999. 
  14. ^ "Prediction 1957: Flying Fan Vehicle". Gregory Benford and the Editors of Popular Mechanics. Retrieved 14 September 2013. 
  15. ^ "Vest-pocket VTOL. (vertical take-off-and-landing aircraft, Sky Commuter) (column)". Mechanical Engineering-CIME. December 1, 1990. Retrieved October 1, 2014. 
  16. ^ "Sky Commuter vehicle prototype for sale". Urbanaero.com. January 12, 2012. Retrieved October 1, 2014. 
  17. ^ "Urban Aeronautics". Urbanaero.com. Retrieved 2012-11-07. 
  18. ^ Category: Uncategorised (2012-09-26). "Home". Moller.com. Retrieved 2014-01-24. 
  19. ^ "Rinspeed Squba, The First Underwater Flying Car". autoforsale.co.in. Retrieved July 2014. 
  20. ^ "Your Flying Car? Delayed again, but you WILL get it, says Terrafugia". theregister.co.uk. 13 May 2013. Retrieved 15 September 2013. 
  21. ^ "When cars fly". haaretz.com. 4 February 2011. Retrieved 18 October 2013. 
  22. ^ Gail Collins, Dan Collins (December 1, 1990). The Millenium Book. Main Street Books. ISBN 978-0385411653. 
  23. ^ Barney L. Capehart (2007). Encyclopedia of Energy Engineering and Technology, Volume 1. CRC Press. ISBN 0-8493-3653-8, ISBN 978-0-8493-3653-9.
  24. ^ "Top 5 Reasons You Don't Want a Flying Car: Flying Can Be a Scary Event". howstuffworks.com. Retrieved 10 October 2013. 
  25. ^ "Top 5 Reasons You Don't Want a Flying Car: Breaking Down Means Falling Out of the Sky". howstuffworks.com. Retrieved 10 October 2013. 
  26. ^ "Top 5 Reasons You Don't Want a Flying Car: Flying Cars Are Hard to Drive in Bad Weather". howstuffworks.com. Retrieved 10 October 2013. 
  27. ^ Bill Watterson: Calvin and Hobbes December 30, 1989
  28. ^ http://www.gocomics.com/calvinandhobbes/1992/03/15#.U5D_xCi9Z6E
  29. ^ Avery Brooks (2000). Where are the flying cars? (Television advertisement). Retrieved 14 June 2014. 
  30. ^ The Flying Car at the Internet Movie Database
  31. ^ Mean Automakers Dash Nation's Hope for Flying Cars at the Internet Movie Database

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]