A brief history of the… Flying car

Henry Dreyfuss’s ConvAirCar.
Image credit: Getty Images
Date:1 January 2013 Tags:, ,

The dream and promise of the flying car is more than a century old. So why aren’t we all zipping around in one? We look to the past for clues. By Phil Berg

1904
Jules Verne’s Master of the World features the Terror – a boat, car, and aircraft that “dart(s) through space with a speed… superior to that of the largest birds”.

1917
The Model 11 Autoplane debuts at New York’s Pan-American Aeronautic Exposition. No record that it flew exists.

 

1921
The Tampier Roadable biplane lands at the Paris Air Salon and takes a 2-hour, 25-km/h drive in the city.

1938
Robert A Heinlein’s For Us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs includes ovoid flying vehicles with wings and helicopter rotors.

1947
Henry Dreyfuss’s ConvAirCar – a glass fibre-bodied automobile with a wing-and-propeller module attached to the roof – crashes during a test flight. The fatal wreck also kills the car’s prospects for production.

1953
Leland Bryan of Buick flies his Autoplane, which is powered by a rear propeller while driving and flying. Bryan dies in 1974 when he crashes a version of it at an air show.

1973
Henry Smolinski mates a Ford Pinto with a Cessna Skymaster – and dies in a test-flight crash along with pilot Harold Blake.

1982
In the dystopian film Blade Runner, oppressive police patrol aloft in vehicles called Spinners.

2009
PopMech gives a Breakthrough Award to the Maverick, a flying dune buggy that delivers medicine to remote areas.

2011
The first flight of the M400X Skycar is scuttled; it’s another­ miscue by inventor Paul Moller, who has been trying to get a car airborne since the 1970s.

2012
The Terrafugia Transition “street legal” plane completes its first test flight in upstate New York.

Related material
* Video: The successful flight test of the Terrafugia Transition in June 2012