Here's a fun fact: a standard, WWII-era Willys army Jeep can withstand a drop of 7.7 ft without sustaining any damage. How does someone find this out? A 12-pack and a broken guard rail? Maybe. Or, you could be British Aerospace engineer Raoul Hafner, and you're figuring out how to airdrop Jeeps.
Those Jeeps with rotor and tail were called the Hafner Rotabuggy, or the Malcom Rotaplane, or, more militarily, the "M.L. 10/42 Flying Jeep," or, to most soldiers likely to see one, "that Jeep into which no way the fuck am I getting in."
If there's anything that's likely to calm a soldier after being told that they're about to get dropped from a plane in a car with the aerodynamics of a wheeled brick, it's probably not "Don't worry. We're completely unpowered as we plummet through the air."
Yes, the Rotabuggy was an autogyro design, meaning that the top rotor was unpowered. These Jeeps were developed to be able to be airdropped, not take off on their own, so there really wasn't any need for a separate motor powering the rotor.
In addition to the rotor assembly, the Jeeps also had a long rear fairing that incorporated twin tails and had control mechanisms for steering in the air. Initial tests were conducted by dragging the flying Jeep behind a big Diamond T truck, but it was too slow to really get the Jeep aloft. Being badasses of the British variety, they switched to a supercharged 4.5L Bentley, which was able to get the Jeep into the air at speeds of 45-65. As we're told from this great, geeky aviation site:
The Rotabuggy was first towed along the runway at high speed behind a 4.5l supercharged Bentley, eventually attaining towed airborne speeds up to 65 mph, the Rotabuggy becoming airborne for the first time on 16 November 1943. These trials took place at Sherburn-in-Elmet, near Leeds, where, eventually, the Rotabuggy was towed into the air behind a Whitley. The initial test behind the Whitley allegedly left much to be desired, the "hanging" control column threshing about and the "pilot" having to exert all his strength to maintain control.
There's also some great British understatement here:
Later, some flights were made behind a Whitley bomber from Sherbourne-in-Elmet. One witness described how she watched a Whitley take off with a Jeep in tow, circle and land. The Jeep, still in tow, did not touch down at the same time, and the witness realized that its occupants "were unhappy".
Why were the occupants "unhappy?" Maybe because
With the pilot holding the hanging control column and the driver clutching the steering wheel, the Jeep made a series of up and down movements, whilst the audience hoped it would stall on a 'down' rather than an 'up'. This it fortunately did, the driver taking over and driving flat-out after the Whitley, to which it remained attached. When it stopped, nobody got out for a while; the pilot was then assisted out and lay down beside the runway to recover. Apparently he was exhausted from trying to control the joystick, which had whipped in circles for the whole flight.
Wow. That sounds fucking awful. I wouldn't turn down a ride in one, though. I think. But I think I want to be the guy not fighting with the crazy spinning control stick.
Eventually, tweaks and fixes were made that let the Rotabuggy be rated "highly satisfactory" by the official Royal Air Force evaluation, but the coming of large gliders that could carry unmodified jeeps and other equipment made the flying Jeeps obsolete before they ever got the chance to be used.
It's too bad, in a way — the sight of thousands of flying Jeeps cascading majestically in the air would probably have made Hitler crap his pants and give up Berlin immediately.
Jeep should be looking into this for their modern Wranglers, too. You could have three top options: soft, hard, or autogyro. No more having to drive down the inside ramps of parking decks for you! Just wink to the poor bastards stuck on the top floor with you, drive off the edge, and glide to the street. Who's the big shot now?