As you probably notice each day in rush-hour traffic, most cars still travel on the ground. Despite innovations in both the automotive and aviation industries, the concept of a flying car remains a futuristically far-removed idea that hasn’t found its place yet. But in reality, flying cars came around in the early 1900s.
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A man by the name of Glenn Curtiss patented the flying car in 1917, according to Popular Mechanics. Curtiss meant for his Model 11 Autoplane to be a luxury car on the inside, as opposed to the more bare features of airplanes at the time. World War I complicated the development process, and the Autoplane never flew.
While one of the earliest flying cars never actually got to fly, later ones did—and it wasn’t much later, either. The “Roadable” flew briefly in 1921, and the “Fulton Airphibian” got approval from the Federal Aviation Administration and flew successfully. Popular Mechanics adds that for some reason—it couldn’t be because of its name, because no one could hate that kind of creativity—the Airphibian didn’t catch on with investors, and it never had a production version.
Others tossed around ideas and attempts at air-road vehicles during the mid 20th century, but the car often referred to as the first flying car—perhaps since it was the first to go into production—came out in 1949. According to Popular Mechanics, engineer Moulton Taylor developed a two-seater vehicle with wings able to be folded and hauled behind while driving on roads.
Taylor called his invention the “Taylor Aerocar,” and the New York Daily News cites 1954 as the year that the production version came around. The vehicle had a ground speed of up to 60 mph and an air speed reaching 117 mph, according to Popular Mechanics. Its maximum altitude was 12,000 feet.
Here are a few clips from the Aerocar—on both the ground and in the air:
With the production version built, Taylor hoped to build a market for flying cars during the 1960s. But a total of five were built, according to the New York Daily News, and only four are still around today—two are in museums, and two belong to private owners.
Neither the Taylor Aerocar nor the others had a lot of success, and flying cars don’t get much attention these days. That’s due to a number of reasons—mainly, the strict regulations by the Federal Aviation Administration. Of the multiple attempts at flying cars, the administration has only certified two.
That is partly because engineering, legal and licensing challenges are huge in the realm of flying cars. For example, weight and material requirements on ground and flying vehicles vary significantly—a current roadable aircraft, the Terrafugia Transition, received special permission to use plastic windows and motorcycle tires to keep weight down, according to Popular Mechanics.
The Transition—which has been around for years, but is only available for reservation and doesn’t have pricing information yet—is also very adorable:
While the flying car has always been one of those far-off, weirdly futuristic ideas, it’s tried to carve out a place in the market for quite some time. But in a time when true, flying hoverboards are a real thing, a ground-to-air personal car doesn’t sound too out of place.
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