Even before the Wright brothers made their first flight in 1903, people have widely imagined a future where flying cars — or aerocars — are a fact of life, whisking us about without the hassles of roads and traffic.
A flying car is a type of personal air vehicle or roadable aircraft that provides door-to-door transportation by both ground and air. The term “flying car” is also sometimes used to include hovercars.
Many prototypes have been built since the first years of the twentieth century using a variety of flight technologies and some have true VTOL performance, but no flying car has yet reached production status. Here are 12 amazing examples of flying cars from over the years.
In 1921 René Tampier tackled the problem of designing an aircraft that was self-propelled and steerable on roads by including a second, low-powered engine driving the main landing wheels through a standard car-type transmission. The roadwheels were completed with a retractable pair nearer the tail. These were steerable, so on the road the Tampier Avion-Automobile, with its wings and tailplane folded, travelled tail first. Only two prototypes were built.
A car with wings and a propeller protruding from the radiator grille, invented by A. H. Russell in Nutley, New Jersey.
An aerocar, unconfirmed as being able to fly, which had a triple function: a combined car, airplane and boat.
Jess Dixon’s Flying Auto (1940)
This flying car is almost a legend, and besides this photo and a brief mention of the vehicle in a newspaper clipping from Andalusia, Alabama, it might as well have not existed at all. According to the story, the photo above is of Jess Dixon; it was supposedly taken sometime around 1940. Although it’s considered a flying car by aviation history buffs, the machine is actually closer to a “roadable helicopter,” due to the two overhead blades spinning in opposite directions. In other words, it’s a gyrocopter that can also roll.
The Flying Auto was powered by a small forty-horsepower engine, and foot pedals controlled the tail vane on the back, allowing Mr. Dixon to turn in mid-air. It was also supposed to be able to reach speeds of up to one hundred miles per hour (160 kph), and was able to fly forwards, backwards, sideways, and hover. Not bad for a flying car that was never heard from again.
Ted Hall’s NX59711 (1946)
A flying automobile with a 130-hp. Franklin engine, it had a top road speed of 60mph and flight speed of 110mph. Those speeds were set by the first model of a design by Ted Hall, aviation engineer. Portable Products Corp., Garland, Tex., is considering the possibilities of producing it.
The “roadable” plane has detachable propeller, wing, booms, and tail. The forward end of the engine crankshaft turns the prop, while a shaft extends aft from the engine into a conventional automobile transmission and differential. Power goes both to propeller and rear wheels for the take-off.
Fulton FA-2 Airphibian (1946)
The Fulton FA-2 Airphibian was an American roadable aircraft manufactured in 1946. Designed by Robert Edison Fulton Jr., it was an aluminum-bodied car, built with independent suspension, aircraft-sized wheels, and a six-cylinder 165 hp engine. The fabric wings were easily attached to the fuselage, converting the car into a plane. Four prototypes were built.
ConvAirCar Model 118 (1947)
The Convair Model 118 ConvAirCar (also known as the Hall Flying Automobile) was a prototype flying car of which two were built. Intended for mainstream consumers, two prototypes were built and flown. The first prototype was lost after a safe, but damaging, low fuel incident. Subsequently, the second prototype was rebuilt from the damaged aircraft and flown. By that time, little enthusiasm remained for the project and the program ended shortly thereafter.
The hybrid vehicle was designed by Theodore P. Hall for the Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Company of San Diego, California, but never went into production. A test pilot had to make a crash landing after the vehicle unexpectedly ran out of fuel — he’d been reading from the car’s fuel gauge, not the plane’s.
Stout Mockup (1950)
A closeup of the decal on the tail shows “Stout,” a firm which did make air cars, though this model is probably a mockup. Here, the Stout mockup, without wings, is parked at the side of a road.
Piasecki AirGeep (1958)
With the VZ-7 grounded forever, the army turned to a very different prototype: the Piasecki VZ-8 AirGeep. Bear in mind that helicopters had already become popular by this point; but it turned out that the military was interested in something smaller than helicopters, which could be successfully flown with less training.
The AirGeep went through seven different versions before it was finally deemed “unfit for military use,” but they all kept the basic design: two large vertical propellers in the front and the back of the craft, with a seat in the middle for the pilot and either three or four wheels for ground use. While the first model was flat, later ones curved upwards at the front and back to form a flattened V-shape. The navy even tried to fit one model with floats, with the hope of using it at sea—but that idea was eventually abandoned, along with the rest of the program.
Moulton Taylor’s Aerocar II (1964)
The Aerocar II Aero-Plane was an unusual light aircraft flown in the United States in 1964. It was a development of designer Moulton Taylor’s famous Aerocar roadable aircraft, but was not roadable itself. Rather, it used the wings and tail unit designed for the Aerocar and mated them to a new fibreglass cabin. The weight saved by not including the parts needed to make the vehicle driveable on the ground meant that an additional two passengers could be carried. Only a single example was built.
AVE Mizar (1971)
In 1971, the Advanced Vehicle Engineers company in California decided to design a flying car that was reminiscent of the ConvAirCar of the 1940s. They took a Ford Pinto, welded a Cessna Skymaster to the top, and essentially called it a day. The bizarre hybrid monster that resulted was dubbed the Ave Mizar.
The car-half of the craft was fairly similar to any normal Ford Pinto on the street. The Pinto’s engine brought the plane up to speed for take off, at which point the plane’s propeller took over. Upon landing, the car’s brakes were responsible for slowing it down. Unfortunately, in 1973—just a year before the car was scheduled to begin mass production—the right wing of one prototype crumpled in mid-air. The car plummeted to the ground, taking any future it might have had with it.
AVE Mizar (1973)
The AVE Mizar (named after the star Mizar) was a roadable aircraft built between 1971 and 1973 by Advanced Vehicle Engineers (AVE) of Van Nuys, Los Angeles, California. The company was started by Henry Smolinski and Harold Blake, both graduates of Northrop Institute of Technology’s aeronautical engineering school.
The prototypes of the Mizar were made by mating the rear portion of a Cessna Skymaster to a Ford Pinto. The pod-and-twin-boom configuration of the Skymaster was a convenient starting point for a hybrid automobile/airplane. According to Peterson’s Complete Ford Book, by mid-1973, two prototypes had been built and three more were under construction. One prototype was slated for static display at a Van Nuys Ford dealership, owned by AVE partner Bert Boeckmann. The other prototype, fitted with a Teledyne Continental Motors 210 horsepower (160 kW) engine, was unveiled to the press on May 8, 1973.
The Mizar was intended to use both the aircraft engine and the car engine for takeoff. This would considerably shorten the takeoff roll. Once in the air, the car engine would be turned off. Upon landing, the four-wheel braking would stop the craft in 525 feet (160 m) or less. On the ground, telescoping wing supports would be extended and the airframe would be tied down like any other aircraft. The Pinto could be quickly unbolted from the airframe and driven away.
On September 11, 1973, during a test flight at Camarillo, the right wing strut detached from the Pinto. With Janisse not available for this test flight, Mizar creator Smolinski was at the controls. Although some reports say the Pinto separated from the airframe, an air traffic controller, watching through binoculars, said the right wing folded because the pilot tried to turn the aircraft when the wing strut support failed. Smolinski and the Vice President of AVE, Harold Blake, were killed in the resulting fiery crash.