Monday, October 15, 2012

Top Five Early Flying Cars

These would be the ancestors of the new Terrafugia Transition flying car that’s grabbing headlines around the world.

1917 Curtiss Autoplane.
Fourteen years after the Wright brothers managed their historic flight, fellow American aircraft pioneer Glen Curtiss came up with the first-ever car that could fly. Sort of. With its wings removed, this aluminum-bodied hybrid could do 70km/h on the road, but unfortunately actual flight was a problem… a few short hops was all it could manage.

1937 Waterman Aerobile
This one actually flew. The high-wing monoplane on three wheels was powered by a 100bhp Studebaker engine could haul itself off the ground and buzz around thanks to a propeller attached to the rear of the vehicle. Understandably, there weren’t too many people willing to risk their lives in this contraption and a distinct lack of customers killed it off.

1946 Fulton Airphibian
Robert Fulton started from the other end. Instead of a car the flies, he designed an airplane that also drove. Apparently, once you’d landed, it only took five minutes to unscrew the prop and undo the tail before driving off at 80km/h. Significantly, this was the first-ever flying car to be certified by the USA’s Federal Aviation Authority.

1949 Taylor Aerocar
Flying cars enjoyed something of a golden age during the optimistic post-war years, but none enjoyed any commercial success. Except this one built by Moulton Taylor. After getting its FAA certification in 1956, Moulton built and sold six of these flying planes, with one still in the regularly flying as late as 2006. A man in Minneapolis, USA, is currently selling his 1954 Aerocar for R10.2-million if you’re interested.

1973 AVE Mizar
After a decade in the doldrums, the idea of a flying car again entered public consciousness with this effort. A true hybrid, mating the rear section of a Cessna Skymaster to a Ford Pinto, the Mizar (named after a star) showed some promise. Tragically, the prototype’s build quality wasn’t quite up to aviation standards and a failed wing strut caused a fiery crash that killed its creator Henry Smolinski.

As appeared in the Sept 2012 issue of the Kulula inflight mag.