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A Brief History of Flying Cars

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The history of car design is full of ideas for taking the car beyond a simple road vehicle and combining it with other technologies.  One that designers have continued to persist with over the years is the flying car, a road-worthy vehicle that can also take to the skies.  We’ve seen it in the movies, but here are some examples of vehicles that actually made it off of the drawing board:

Early Attempts

One of the first attempts to create a flying car was by Frank E. Skroback, who designed and built his prototype “Roadable Airplane” in the early 1930s.  It was a narrow, stubby vehicle built on a timber frame.  Though there is no proof that the vehicle ever flew, it was seen around the streets of New England as it was tested.  Skroback’s prototype is still in existence, and was auctioned as recently as 2010.

A Brief History of Flying Cars

In contrast to Skroback, the Autogiro Company of America were busy building a vehicle that could actually fly.  Their AC-35 was capable of flying at high speeds and could also reach 25mph on the road.  Attempts to get the vehicle from prototype into production failed due to the unmanageable costs.

Meanwhile attempts were also underway in England.  Designer Edmund Hordern was working on a prototype supported by the Duke of Richmond and Gordon (no less), and the Autoplane was eventually built in 1936 by Heston Aircraft Company.  Hordern himself piloted the first flight, but the vehicle was grounded upon the outset of war and faded into obscurity.

After the war had ended, experiments continued.  Back in the US, the Fulton Airphibian was an attempt to build a plane that could be easily converted into a car.  Upon landing, the wings and fuselage could be removed to leave a wheeled cockpit for road use.  Four prototypes were built, and one of those has survived to go on display at the Canadian Aviation Museum.

Next up, in 1947, was the Convair Model 116 and the subsequent rebuilt Model 118.  Another convertible machine, this vehicle is easily recognisable as a fusion of car and plane – the wings and tail could be detached from the traditionally styled car body.  After early testing, plans for production were scrapped.

Another hybrid from that era was the Taylor Aerocar, the first of six examples being built in 1949.  Rather than being detachable, the Aerocar’s wings folded away when not in use, and the conversion process was designed to take five minutes.  Maximum speeds were 60mph on the road and 110mph in the air.  Although there was an agreement in place for production, insufficient quantities of orders lead to the program being abandoned.  All six examples have survived in one form or another, some having been extensively rebuilt.

Modern Equivalents

Recent attempts continue to explore both the integrated and modular designs created by pioneers.  Advances in technology mean that conversion from air to road-worthy can be done in seconds rather than minutes.

One such example is the Transition, built by Terrafugia, has been in development since 2006 and can fold the wings and tail so that the vehicle can fit into a normal domestic garage.  It can reach speeds of 65mph on the road and 115mph (100 knots) in the air.

The first truly automatic folding prototype though was the LaBiche FSC-1.  The integrated style gives it the appearance of a super car and it boasts speeds to match, up to a claimed 180mph on the road.

The Haynes Aero Skyblazer is another integrated vehicle designed to fold the wings underneath the body when not in flight.  Unlike the Transition though, this vehicle has yet to make it to the prototype stage.

Our final example is the Moller M400 Skycar, a vertical take-off vehicle that the manufacturers claim will begin test flights in 2012.  The design integrates four rotary engines and will only provide limited control to a pilot in flight, with an automated system in place to do most of the work.  Moller though, have been severely criticised for failing to meet targets in the past having already taken advance deposits.

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