Very few science fiction stories would be complete without the staples of the genre—laser rifles, robots, and above all, flying cars. Intrinsically distinct from aircraft, flying cars are defined by their ability to perform equally well on the ground as in the air. Indeed, the popular image of a flying car looks no different from a normal auto on the ground—it just happens to be able to fly, at least if you push the right button.
Well, the twentieth century certainly wasn’t short on innovation—and it should come as no surprise that we’ve made a few decent attempts at flying cars over the years. Some were genius, others hilariously misguided, but they all add an extra little pinch of flavor to the legacy of our era. Here are ten amazing examples of flying cars from over the years:
10. Curtiss AutoPlane:
The Curtiss AutoPlane is pretty much the first glimpse the world got of a flying car, outside the pages of fiction. In 1917, an aviation engineer named Glenn Curtiss dissected one of his own airplane designs and slapped some of the pieces onto an aluminum Model T. The airplane it was based on was called the Curtiss Model L trainer, a triplane (three rows of wings) with a one-hundred-horsepower engine (which is about as powerful as a decent tractor).
Like a car, the front two tires could be turned with a steering wheel inside the cabin, and it was propelled on the ground and in the air by a propeller attached to the back. Unfortunately, the “limousine of the air” never really flew—by all accounts, the most it could manage was a series of short hops before it was discontinued at the start of WWI.
9. Jess Dixon’s Flying Auto:
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.