FLYING CARS AND JETPACKS

Hiller Aerial Sedan, detail of Popular Science July 1957 cover

Flight is the ultimate mythic dream. Gods flew. From the sky or the tops of mountains or mystic realms, numinous beings swooped down to lowly Earth, meddled in mankind's existence, and then soared away to places we could only dream of, forever barred from their magnificence.

 

A subset of humanity hears those words and thinks, "But not me." All discovery starts with that thought. Daedalus and Icarus are one story among many of humans daring to be gods. They succeeded and failed, because that makes for the better moral tale, but their thousands of imitators cared only for the former. They tried and tried and tried again to launch themselves through the air, if not like gods, then at least like birds.

 

Finally, in the late 18th century, technology caught up with their aspirations. The Montgolfiers launched balloons, first hot air and then hydrogen, first with animals and then, spectacularly, with people. Word spread as fast as ships sailed. The western world went flight-happy almost 200 years before it went space-happy. Mankind would soon conquer the air as they had the land and the water. Travelers would go from one to the other with ease; more than ease - one craft would take them anywhere they might want to go. Call that craft whatever you liked. Why not call it a "flying car?"

 

The Flying Car encapsulates future history, turning from a dream in the early 19th century to a sure-to-be-coming reality in the early 20th century and back again into a dream as a long procession of inventors tried and failed to merge an object that demanded hollow-boned lightness with one that required strong-bodied solidity. Inventors never left a thought unbuilt, using as their base everything from balloons to autogiros to helicopters.

 

 

ConvAirCar, Model 118, 1947
Jess Dixon, 1941

FLYING CARS AND JETPACKS

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

1. THE FIRST "FLYING CAR"

 

Plans for a flying car - from 1810 - plus the first mention of "flying car" in The New York Times.

 

2. HYPERLOOPY

 

Speed cars in a vacuum; Elon Musk got beat by 200 years.

 

3. DAWN OF THE FLYING CAR

 

How the flying car would work, as laid out in 1917.

 

4. GLENN CURTISS - A FIRST FLYING CAR

 

1917, when America's top name in flight shows off the Autoplane.

 

5. RENÉ TAMPIER - ANOTHER FIRST FLYING CAR

1921, France strikes back with the Avion-automobile.

6. SMILIN' JACK'S AUTOPLANE

Comic strip aviator Smilin' Jack gets lots of laughs in his 1935 flying car.

7. WALDO WATERMAN - THE LAST FIRST FLYING CAR

 

1937, the Arrowbile leaves no doubt that a car could fly and a plane could drive.

 

8. TELEPORTATION

 

From here to there in an instant - the flying car times infinity.

9. THE FIRST JETPACK?

 

What was that thing that Buck Rogers wore?

10. LUIGI PELLARINI'S AERAUTO

The flying car that was presented to a Cardinal.

 

11. STANLEY HILLER - THE REAL LIFE TOM SWIFT

 

Finally, a flying car that looked like a car, flying.

 

12. THE HOUSE OF MANY WORLDS

 

The rare science fiction novel that stars a flying car.

 

13. THE LOOK OF THE FUTURE - FLYING CARS

 

Every flying object tried to look like a rocketship crossed with a fighter jet in the 50s.

 

14. CHUCK BERRY'S FLYING CAR

 

The follow-up to "Maybellene," about an even cooler Cadillac.

 

 

 

What killed the flying car weren't these offshoots, the 1941 backyard inventor embodying the 1867 comic French satire. The real, deliberate, precision-built by major aircraft company flying cars were somehow even worse, with the ConvAirCar Model 118 from Consolidated Vultee Aircraft going all the way to 11, looking like a child took a model airplane and smashed it into a model car. This was 1947, a period of shortages, of cars and planes and roads and space, set into a world of technological can-do optimism. Flying cars were as much a rage as zoot suits, and looked dated just as quickly.

ConvAirCar, Model 118, 1947

How to Futurize a flying car? Turn it into a car, flying. The Hiller Aerial Platform, at the top of the page, embodied this notion, rising vertically from suburban backyard to the commuter air lane above. Set ten years in the future, "Your Flying Car of 1967" served as a dream of future wonders, a promise never meant to be kept.

 

"Where's My Flying Car?" Sorry, buddy, you weren't ever meant to have one. They're the craft that robots will fly when they take over from us.

EK

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    Hiller Aerial Sedan, detail of Popular Science July 1957 cover