Where are the flying cars? We saw them in Back to the Future II (Set in 2015). We saw them in Blade Runner (Set in 2019). We're now halfway through 2012, so hover-conversions should at least be in the beta stage, right?
Flying cars – personal vehicles that operate in the air as well as on the road – have been a dream for more than 100 years. As you can imagine, the engineering challenges involved in making a car fly are enormous. So are the costs. And let's not even talk about what happens if you have a fender-bender at 500 feet.
But these obstacles haven't stopped automotive and aeronautical engineers from trying to bring this age-old science fiction fantasy to life. Here is a list of seven actual flying cars – all of them experimental or prototypes – from the past 80 years:
1. Waterman Aerobile (1937) – Waldo Dean Waterman was an accomplished aircraft pioneer associated with the Curtiss Aircraft Co. in the years prior to World War II. Among his many inventions was the Aerobile, a small self-propelled car with detachable wings. Five Aerobiles were built and flown, two of them completing a trip from San Diego to Ohio (with multiple stops). One Aerobile currently rests in the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington.
2. ConvAircar (1947) – Convair, the San Diego-based aircraft and missile manufacturer, financed this flying-car concept from its chief development engineer, Theodore P. Hall, who had built and flown a similar vehicle in the late 1930s. Like many mid-20th century flying cars, the design had a wing, tail and engine attached to a conventional automobile, in this case a custom-designed four-seat saloon car. The ConvAircar actually made two successful flights in late 1947 before crashing on its third attempt.
3. Taylor Aerocar (1949) – Unlike earlier “roadable” aircraft that had detachable wings and tails that required several people to make the conversion, the Taylor Aerocar incorporated folding wings that could be deployed by just one person in about five minutes. The vehicle received Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) certification in 1956, but Taylor was not able to get enough orders to justify full production. In all, six prototypes were built. One is still flying.
4. Piasecki VZ-8 AirGeep (1962) – Before helicopters became commonplace, the U.S. Army attempted to develop a flying Jeep to ferry men and material over rough terrain. Among the several working prototypes entered in the Army's “Flying Jeep Competition” of the late 1950s and early 1960s was the Piasecki VZ-8, which used two ducted fan motors to fly up to 3,000 feet and achieve speeds up to 85 mph.
5. The Moller Skycar (1970-Present) – Paul Moller is a Canadian who has spent the last 40-plus years trying to develop a true flying car – a personal Vertical Takeoff-and-Landing (VTOL) vehicle that can operate without an airstrip. Although he has produced several attractive prototypes, none of them has lived up to their hype and Moller himself was sued for civil fraud by the SEC in 2003.
6. PAL-V (2012) – Developed by the Dutch company PAL-V Europe NV, the PAL-V (Personal Air and Land Vehicle) has been in development since 2008 and made its maiden flight in early 2012. Completely street legal, the PAL-V has rotors that slide automatically into a rear hatch when the vehicle is on the highway. It has a reported top speed of 100 mph.
7. Terrafugia Transition (2012) – Developed by a Massachusetts company, this is a two-seated auto/airplane hybrid with wings that fold automatically for highway driving. Unlike the classic flying cars of the movies, the Transition still requires a conventional runway for takeoff and landing.
Learn Automotive Technology at WyoTech
Until we're all using our aircars to fly to work like on "The Jetsons," the good old automobile is likely to remain the personal commuter vehicle of choice. If your career dreams are more down to earth, you can train to diagnose, maintain and repair 21st century cars and light trucks at WyoTech, one of America's leading schools for automotive technology.
WyoTech graduates approximately 10,000 students annually, many of them going on to rewarding careers with auto shops, dealerships, car customizers and other auto industry employers. The school offers both generalized courses in Automotive Technology along with specialties such as Advanced Automotive Diagnostics, High-Performance Powertrains, Street Rod and Custom Fabrication and Applied Service Management.
The Automotive Technology program is offered at WyoTech campuses in Blairsville, Pa.; Fremont, Calif.; Laramie, Wyo.; and Long Beach, Calif. Programs and schedules vary by campus.
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