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Flying cars: Story of a dream

23 July 2018
We are experiencing a crucial time for the automobile industry, where the entire industry's future is being decided right before our eyes. And even if the industry comes to terms with some innovations (electric cars, unmanned vehicles), others still have to prove their worth.
Flying cars are no longer just a figment of the imagination of futurists and fantasy writers; they have been in development for many years, and there is already a significant number of working prototypes. In summer 2018, several big companies revealed their developments at once; these included Rolls Royce and BlackFly, which, as it turns out, is owned by Larry Page, founding member of Google. This trend can not be ignored any longer. But how did it all begin?

As soon as the Wright brothers launched their first aircraft equipped with a Flyer-1 engine in December 1903, the idea of a flying car has appealed to humankind. On that day, one dream became reality, and a second dream was born – the concept of a personal flying vehicle that can be also driven on land.
The first known flying car prototype was presented in 1917 by an engineer named Glenn Curtiss.

His vehicle combined the design of both a car and an airplane, and was called the Curtiss Autoplane. The body of the Ford Model T can be seen in the design, with additional wings and a propeller attached. As in a car, the wings were to be controlled by a steering wheel. It was presented at the First Pan-American Aeronautic Exposition, where it was described as "a flying limousine" in the event brochures.
That said, one glance at the car was enough to realize it had never left the ground. After a few unsuccessful tests in which the car merely bobbed up and down, Curtiss abandoned the project and started working on airplanes. And the decision paid off; the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company became one of the first big companies on the market, and later merged with the Wright Brothers Corporation. The Curtiss-Wright Corporation still exists to this day.
Over the next 20 years, the dream of a flying car had died down, but had not died out. Even giants of industry such as Henry Ford tried to develop their own designs, but managed to design a single-seated mini airplane rather than a car.

The project was never put into production, but Ford believed till his dying day that flying cars were the future of the industry. As he said himself, "Mark my words: a combination of airplane and motorcar will be invented. You may smile now, but the day will come". And the day did come, and as early as in 1937.

That year, inventor Waldo Waterman presented the Waterman Arrowbile. The Arrowbile was made up of parts of serially manufactured cars and was equipped with a propeller. Its wings were detachable, though it is not known how long the installation process took. But most importantly is that the car could actually fly, and there is even documentary evidence of this.

However, the project did not go any further than this. Just three Arrowbiles were built, and Waterman was never able to find investors to expand production. Then came the Second World War, and the design was put to rest.
A similar case is that of inventor Robert Fulton, creator of the Airphibian, whose story took place after the war. This design had a completely different approach; Fulton did not try to make a car fly, but to make an airplane drive.

The Fulton Airphibian was just a regular airplane with detachable wings and a tail section. The front propeller retracted into the fuselage, resulting in a slightly unattractive car, but a car nonetheless.

The seemingly successful design had to be abandoned for the same reason – investors did not believe in its success. Fulton's successors managed to rebuild one of the Airphibians at the start of the 1990's, which is now kept in a museum in the US.
The next design that almost achieved success was the American ConvAirCar. Frankly speaking, it could hardly be called a flying car – it was more a car with an airplane mounted on top (or an airplane with a car attached beneath, whichever you prefer).

The vehicle caught the eye of investors, but crashed on its third flight. And so the project was laid to rest.
During the Cold War, the creation of a flying car sparked the interest of the American army. In cooperation with British engineers, they came up with the Avrocar project.

As amusing as this flying saucer may seem today, its creation cost a serious amount of money, almost 10 million US dollars. It was the first of similar designs made using vertical take-off technology. Unfortunately, after years of development the saucer failed to lift off higher than one and a half meters above the ground. In 1961, the project was shut down.
The last project worth mentioning is the Aerocar designed by Moulton Taylor, possibly the most famous example of a flying car.

Taylor's marketing skills are worthy of a mention; he promoted his car in the press, gave rides to stars such as Marilyn Monroe, and almost made the project a reality. Aerocar even received a Federal Aviation Administration certificate and was prepared for serial production, but did not get the required number of pre-orders. Until recently, the Aerocar was the project that had come the closest to full production.
All these developments are only pioneer projects of course, but the example set by these designers suggests that a flying car was never just a dream. Working prototypes have existed for over half a century, and the rest is in the hands of the market.
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