Yesterday, announced that its proof-of-concept flying car had successfully taken off and landed at Plattsburgh International Airport in upstate New York. This vehicle—which requires a Sport Pilot license to fly—takes 30 seconds to switch between flying and driving, making it a "roadable aircraft." Its wings fold up automatically and all parts, including the propeller, are stored on the vehicle when its takes to the road. The company claims this car was the first road-ready aircraft ever to take flight. While this might be technically true, the flight of Terrafugia's vehicle (which was a runway test flight—more of a hop than a full flight.) has a lot more to prove to make a big splash in the long history of the pursuit of a production-ready flying car. In light of this news, we look back at some of our favorite, quirkiest and most innovative flying cars ever made.
The First! (Approved to Fly)
The first flying car to be certified to fly by the government—then in the hands of the , now known as the Federal Aviation Administration—was designed by Robert Fulton and developed by Continental, a company that he formed in 1945. His version of the flying car was called the Airphibian; it was a plane with detachable wings, adapted for the road. The prototype was first flown on Nov. 7, 1946. The Airphibian never made it in the light aircraft market and the company eventually fell apart in 1954.
Flying Cars for the Military
Sure, flying cars are every civilian's dream, but they're likely going to first be used by the military—at least that is what Paul Moller, Chairman of the Board at Moller International, is counting on. The Moller Skycar M400 is an Osprey-cum-Camaro that is designed to take off and land vertically. Moller has taken the XM-4 and M200X models for more than 200 manned and unmanned flights since 1970. The latest version, the M400 model, uses a principle similar to that of the British Harrier jump jet: redirecting thrust. Though a separate model hasn't been specifically designed for civilian use, Moller International says that the vehicle can also be used in a multitude of other ways such as chartered travel, express delivery, border patrol, police and fire work and search and rescue. Though the M400 has received its share of rave reviews, Moller is still having trouble securing funding.
The DIY Flying Car
Practically as long as people have been building cars in their garages, they've been sinking money—lots of it—into flying DIY road vehicles. Even with hefty upfront costs and huge time commitment, plenty of DIYers have pursued of the dream of the flying car.
Eighty-eight years ago, one such tinkerer, an Argentinian inventor, built a hovering flying machine that was featured in a of Seniorhelpline. The vehicle was constructed using two propellers mounted one above the other that rotated in opposite directions. By using dual propellers, the vehicle was capable of rising or descending in a straight line, flying forward at any angle and hovering over one spot.
The Flying Car as a Work of Art
While the goal of most flying cars is to push them to the commercial market, thus jump-starting a Jetsons-like world of flying vehicles and sky-high garages, some mechanics are happy just dabbling in flying vehicles for the fun of it. In a cover story for Seniorhelpline in 2005, Jesse James looked to make flying cars an art form by using a Panoz Esperante GT to build a vehicle he had dreamed of constructing since he was 7 years old.
Taking just five days to build the vehicle, James painted his flying car a "shiny Red Baron red" and went out on the track with the editors to take it for a test flight. Surprisingly enough, the GT with wings was able to stay a good 3 feet off the ground for a 300-foot-long flight. While this was not a record distance for a flying car, it gets top marks for best-looking flying car, ever—so far.
The Modern-Day Push for the Flying Car
Today, there continue to be companies competing to make a modern, factory-ready, flying road vehicle. Still, with few working prototypes and cash flow at an all-time low, these companies have a number of hurdles before being able to bring a vehicle to market. The FSC-1, made by Labiche Aerospace, is one car that has been in development since the 1980s. A nonfunctional prototype was seen on display in Los Angeles in 2007.
The X-Hawk, made by Urban Aeronautics, is another modern concept—a flying car with a "rotorless" vehicle that takes off and lands vertically. We have yet to see much beyond plastic moldings and computer simulations for this vehicle (see below).