The obsession began innocently enough. This is a picture of a "pigmy Zeppelin" from the April 1916 issue of what was then known as Popular Science Monthly. The miniZep wasn't a flying car, but it was an early step toward personal air travel for the masses. This one was "built for the British Government [sic] by a company of American constructors."
November 1917. An early example of aircraft awesomeness — a strong gasoline engine and a puller propeller — being crossbred with motorized ground travel. This guy looks kind of freaked out. We don't blame him.
February 1920. A car is pressed into service as a biplane starter (the drive rig is known as a Hucks), and the car-meets-aircraft madness begins.
Dude has his face awfully close to that drive chain, no?
December 1921. Build the "Aero Sled" at home; the plans cost just a buffalo nickel! Ignore the total lack of visibility and potential for sudden death! Steer the whole thing with — yes! — a tiller! Splendid!
Almost a car. Not there yet.
March 1926. This is where it gets funky. This is the first Popular Science cover to feature a flying car. The craft's wings folded, a lever directed power to its rear wheels, and its propeller was removable. The machine was invented by a German civil engineer. It never got off the ground.
December 1932. Car plus front half of swamp boat plus streaky speed lines equals greatest murdermobile ever invented. Note how the bumper, the license plate, and that chicken-wire front guard all seem to be geared toward scooping up pedestrians. Ah, but it has turn signals! Safety first, kids!
October 1933. The car in this illustration does not fly. The glider — which looks disturbingly nose-heavy — does. The basic idea makes perfect sense: Why bother trying to get a car airborne when you can just carry an airplane with you? Launch from the highway! Avoid all that nasty messing about with runways! It's clean, tidy, and portable!
Yes, yes, of course it is. You try it first. We'll watch.
July 1934. Many of PopSci's ideas appear to have come about through a drunken game of engineering spin-the-bottle. ("Ok, Passenger Ferry — it looks like you're going to have to get it on with Airplane-Powered Train. Go in that darkened room and get busy. Who's next? Hovercraft Lawnmower Tricycle, you look randy — give it a go!)
This isn't a flying car, but it has a propeller, it spends half its life in the air, and it looks like a mutated Wienermobile. Close enough.
April 1935. OK, this isn't a flying car either. But look — a propeller! A rail! A rudder!* It's like the love child of a Toastmaster, a Douglas DC-3, and the Pioneer Zephyr. Sexy.
*Directional stability for off-rail excursions? A balancing device? Who knows?
February 1936. Is it just us, or is that guy cowering in fear?
May 1937. The plane-car that didn't fly — this thing had three wheels, a rudder, elevators, and the body of a mid-1930s Ford. You were supposed to balance the whole thing on its main "landing" gear — note the retracted nose gear — using only the throttle.
Suicide is painless? No; suicide is this. Still, if given the chance, we'd drive it. (Is that a paved oval? Are they... racing? )
May 1939. Don't fret, BusTrainRailPlaneBumblebeeCar — we love you. You'll fly one day, and we'll be there to see it. And Auntie Em, and Toto, and...
March 1948. Technically, this is a flying car. For the moment.
Seriously, though: What the heck is going on here? Why were they on a roof to begin with? Why is the dog the only one smart enough to leap to safety? Who was wearing that trench coat? And for God's sake, man, don't beat around the bush: How can it happen to me?
October 1949. Proof, as it were, that the end goal of all car-plane mashups is the airborne commute. Do we care that Frank risks decapitation while mowing the lawn? Of course not. He's aware of the danger, and by gum, he's also aware of the perils of overgrown zoysia. A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.
August 1951. This is barely related to our topic, but we don't care. Ferociously excellent. This one's getting framed.
July 1952. Yes, folks, that's three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and former Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Wilbur Shaw. He's here to test the Airphibian, but... but wait! Look at the rest of the cover! You mean to tell me I could build a porch out of plastic? This is the best issue ever!
July 1959. In 1959, Illinois physician William Bertleson built a hovercraft prototype in his backyard that, according to PopSci, "upstaged the military's miniature lab models." No mention of whether or not he legally changed his name to "Strangelove."
April 1992. The 1960s marked the beginning of a twenty-year drought in PopSci's cover-worthy coverage of oddball aircraft. This cover was the first to return to the subject.
October 1992. Car turns into plane, plane turns into car, blah blah blah. The best part of this clip is the "lamby meaty peptide" bit in the upper right. Also, the Starcar never happened. But you probably knew that.
March 2000. Hey, Moller Skycar! Haven't seen you in a long time! What's that? You wish your inventor would just let you die a quick, merciful death? You're tired of being whored out to journalists for the better part of two decades? That's ok; we understand. Maybe you should think about changing fields. We hear that the next century of computing is going to involve a lot of this "Internet" thing. Ever think about blogging?
March 2006. Where, indeed? For that matter, why haven't we built an aquatic tank yet? And why do my current bionic fingers suck so much? Can you help?
June 2006. The first page of a two-page spread on automated flying cars. This didn't make the cover.
June 2006. The second page of the spread.
October 2008. Hugely impractical. Kind of ugly. Very expensive. Don't really care. Want.
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