Have you ever heard of Ford's 'Glideair' hovercar concept from 1961? If yes, forget what you were told, it didn't actually exist. But the picture above is not a fake and is from 1959. Wait... what? Here's what actually happened.
Two hi-resolution images have recently been circulating on the internet labeled "Ford Glideair." They are from the Righter Family Archives, and there are two reasons why it's easy to think they are legit:
One is the fact that aviation engine pioneer Walter Hammond Righter's son wrote "FORD MOTOR COMPANY (Aeronutronic Division)" under them, and if someone, he should know. The other is an article from the 1958 edition of Mechanix Illustrated quoting Ford’s vice president Andrew A. Kucher in charge of Engineering and Research about the company's plans to produce wheeless vehicles.
But it wasn't only Ford who were dreaming about the ground-effect vehicles of the future.
After Curtiss-Wright lost a jet engine contract against General Electric in the early fifties, the company had to look for new challenges. They found one by entering into a management agreement with the troubled Studebaker-Packard Corporation in 1956, but also spent millions on trying to turn the West-German NSU's Wankel design into an aircraft engine and their flying car program. The Studebaker deal ended in 1959, just when Curtiss-Wright got the public's attention after some ambitious marketing like this postcard:
The Curtiss-Wright "Bee" promised a lot long before even a prototype was ready. Still, in 1959, the first hovercar was displayed for all the world to see. The Model 2500 was much larger and was supposed to seat four, but the prototype remained a two-seater. They also made it look like a car instead of actually building one since the mechanics couldn't be scaled down.
According to the U.S. Army Transportation Museum, the 2500's specifications were the following:
"The Air Car was built of welded steel tubing covered by molded sheet metal. It was powered by two 180hp Lycoming engines mounted one forward and one aft of the passenger compartment.
Each engine was used to drive, via reduction gears, a single four-bladed lift fan placed within a plenum chamber. The two chambers created a cushion of air 10-15 inches thick. Forward propulsion was supplied by air bled off the chambers and expelled at low velocity through two sets of louvers on each side of the vehicle."
Length - 21 Ft Width - 8 Ft Height - 6 Ft 1 In Weight - 2,770 lbs. Cruising speed: 20 mph Max speed: 38 mph.
Even the U.S. Military bought two vehicles for engineering and operational evaluation in 1960, but since Curtiss-Wright's wonder couldn't even deal with a bit of terrain, they abandoned the idea in less than a year.