Our last blog post about the Goodwood Aerodrome got us thinking about that futuristic dream of the flying car…
The stuff of movies and science fiction for years, flying cars featured in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Jetsons, James Bond and more recently Harry Potter.Then last week some of our friends came back from a weekend at Daytona and they had visited the ‘Warbirds Adventure’ museum in Kissimmee Florida and one of the exhibits was a Molt Taylor “Aerocar” which is a real flying car and the only certified airplane in history that could also drive legally on the highway. This example was designed by Molt Taylor in 1946 and was once owned by TV host Bob Cummings who flew and drove it on his weekly TV show “The Bob Cummings Show”, and has flown many celebrities including Marilyn Monroe! The museums example is the last remaining flying Areocar and belongs to the Sweeny family who reguarly fly it. James May was filmed flying the car in his Big Ideas show in 2008. Watch a video of the family with the Aerocar
So this got us digging around to discover what we could about the holy grail of the car/plane combination. Many inventors have tried and failed over the years to produce a successful ‘flying car’. The first attempt is believed to have been the Curtiss Autoplane of 1917, which proved incapable of anything resembling true flight.
After the war there was a resurgence of interest and in 1946 Robert Edison Fulton Jr produced his Fulton ‘Airphibian’. It was intended that you flew your plane and then after landing the fuselage could be split in two, the front became a very basic car and the rear part of the tail and wings was left behind at the airport while you drove away.
This design got aeronautical engineer Molt Taylor thinking of a better way to make a flying car and he designed a version which featured a folding wing and tail which could be towed by the vehicle and converted in five minutes. The first official test flight took place in December 1949.
Primitive by automobile standards of the day, the Aerocar featured an air-cooled Lycoming flat-four engine, positioned over the rear wheels. A three-speed manual transmission provided drive to the front wheels, and this road transmission was simply placed into neutral when the Aerocar was in flight mode. The conversion process from automobile to airplane involved fitting a tail cone and propeller assembly, which was driven by a power take-off located behind the rear license plate.
Aluminum was used in construction of the frame, wings, tail and ailerons, and the fuselage covered in fiberglass to save weight. The steering wheel operated the front wheels on the ground, but was also linked to ailerons and elevator flaps to provide bank and pitch control in flight. On the floor were clutch, brake and rudder control pedals, the throttle was mounted on the dashboard.
After flying the wings fold back along the tail, the propeller is stowed, and the tail disengaged and rotated into the towing position. The tail portion could be parked, allowing the Aerocar’s cabin to be used independently as a compact car.
Development continued throughout 1950, and it took it’s first long flight from Salem, Oregon, to Longview, Washington) on August 29.
In May 1954 an improved version was submitted to Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) for certification. On December 14, 1956, the Aerocar became the first certified airplane that could also be driven on U.S. highways, a feat that has yet to be duplicated.
Taylor continued to build Aerocars throughout the 50’s but costs were an issue and a short lived deal to go into production in 1961 failed as the 500 required buyers couldn’t be found. Taylor spent the rest of his life building improved prototypes but none went into production.
Of the 6 prototypes made, 5 remain. One of them unused since 1977 but supposedly maintained in an airworthy condition. was for sale for $1.25million in 2012. For a vehicle which was only a prototype it got a lot of publicity and recognition and is remembered with affection, recently one appeared in the Disney movie ‘Planes’, although the 1954 Taylor Aerocar in the movie is depicted as German and called Franz Fliegenhosen!
Another designer Theodore P Hall came up with the prototype ConvairCar featuring a plastic bodied four seater car suspended under a 34.5 foot wing. It flew for the first time in November 1947 but crashed within three weeks due to fuel starvation, after fitting another body it was flying again by the end of January 1948.Flying cars were still being developed into the 70’s with the Mizar built between 1971 and 1973 by Advanced Vehicle Engineers (AVE) of Van Nuys, Los Angeles, California. The company was started by Henry Smolinski, a graduate of Northrop Institute of Technology’s aeronautical engineering school.
Prototype Mizar’s were made by adding the rear portion of a Cessna Skymaster to a Ford Pinto. Two prototypes were built and three more were under construction. One, fitted with a Teledyne Continental Motors 210 horsepower engine, was unveiled to the press on May 8, 1973. It then began a series of taxi tests at Van Nuys, California.
So dreams or reality, will Aerocars ever become a part of our transport system? Many have tried but none have ever gone into production mainly due to prohibitive costs and the complicated certification required.
On a final note one aerocar dreamer is photographer Renaud Marion who takes ordinary cars and photoshops them into floating creations, here’s one example from his ‘Air Drive’ series and one we’d certainly like to be real, it’s really cool! Maybe he’d like to create a floating Mario.