The Visionaries, Madmen, and Tinkerers Who Created the Future That Never Was
DAWN OF THE FLYING CAR
The aeroautocraft of the future will roll on the road, cleave through the water, fly through the air. Its owner will start from his garage or hangar, travel streets or roads at will, cross streams or lakes that lie in his path, rise in the air and fly over a hill, a valley, or woods, to another road, all at his pleasure.
This is not the prediction of a dreamer...
Far from a dreamer, Carl Harry Claudy was an experienced observer of the new world of aircraft in 1917. Neither was Illustrated World given to flights of fancy, preferring the mechanical world around it. Despite the name, an attempt to appeal to a slightly wider audience than the core techies, the magazine had begun life as Technical World, put out by the Armour Institute of Technology, and would in a few years merge with Popular Mechanics. Naturally, a wee bit of sensationalism never hurt sales; the magazines could never promise too much as long as they made it seem like a plausible extrapolation of current marvels. Claudy, deep into what would be a 40-year writing career knew exactly how to give the editors what they needed.
This is not the prediction of a dreamer, but the logical development of present day tendencies. With the memory of Morse’s first forty miles of line less than a hundred years ago and comprehension of the network of cables and wires which enmesh the earth today—with recollection of Bell’s toy in the Philadelphia Centennial, and a long distance call three thousand miles long an accomplished fact forty years after—recalling Edison’s first inefficient electric light, now lost in the dazzling rays of the present day electrical illumination—is it hard to believe that the motor car of today, a fact—the aeroplane of today, another fact—the motor boat of today, a third fact, may be—nay, must be, combined to form the universal vehicle of the not far-distant future?
Already the aeroplane and the motor boat have coalesced. We had hydroplanes before aeroplanes, although hydroplane meant then only a motor boat which rode on, rather than in, the water. The flying boat—or hydroaeroplane, as it is called—which can soar or swim is an everyday fact in 1917. What more logical than the addition of the automobile, that the three modes of travel known to man may be combined ?
What indeed? Claudy starts slow, describing the craft as a simple, almost linear, projection of then-current trends.
The body will be a combination of the lines we now know only in separate entities. It will have the enclosed glass top of the pleasure car, the stream lines of the best yachting practice, and the lightness and strength of the aeroplane fuselage. Attached to the top will be a pair of not too large monoplane wings from which will be evolved a nose or prow, which streams into the body.
The wings on the cover illustration, copied faithfully for the interior illustration, are puzzling, though perhaps they were an attempt to add some futuristic flavor to the craft and make it easier to see the passengers inside. The wheels appear altogether too flimsy for extended driving, though the wings were supposed to take most of the weight off them. Indeed, every aspect of the "aero-auto-craft" would serve to solve the problems plaguing contemporary vehicles.
The present trouble makers on aeroplanes, boats and automobiles will be no more. There will be no brake in the future—the two steering vanes together will stop the aeroautocraft in two lengths. There will be nothing to oil, save a few ball bearings twice a year. Tires will wear for thousands of miles,—probably fifty to a hundred—because they will get so little wear. There will be no such thing as traffic congestion in cities, because streets will be used only for landing and starting—travel will be overhead !
There will be no speed laws—instead, there will be speed levels, the slower near the ground, the faster ones higher up. And lastly, there will be no accidents, save such as are clue to faulty construction of the aeroautocraft itself, for, no matter how many may flit through the air, there will be room, always, up above!
Only at the end, a full six pages deep into the article, does Claudy give up pretending that an aeroautocraft is nigh, slipping into the familiar futurists' exploit of what cartoonist Sidney Harris drew as "then a miracle occurs". To get the weight light enough he resorts to an electric engine, which needs no fuel, or rather needs no fuel on board the craft. Just a source of "wireless power to the ether."
As with all later versions of flying cars, the barriers between vision and execution were not seen as fatal flaws as much as challenges to the imagination. Other seemingly more difficult problems had already been solved. If the sleekly perfect craft of Claudy's imagination wasn't possible, then perhaps a clumsier, more limited version might be. Expressing the dream was half the battle.