It’s recently been revealed that Larry Page, one of Google’s cofounders, is funding two different companies to build a flying car. Much like Google Glass or Siri, it seems more born of a desire to make the science fiction shows of the past a reality instead of deliver a viable product. And that’s not least because the flying car has a long history of ambitious goals and modest success.
Why A Flying Car?
The roots of the flying car really lie with something that wasn’t a flying car at all. In the 1920s, Ford experimented with the Ford Flivver, an attempt to build a small, storable aircraft not unlike the Model T. Like you might expect from a tiny aircraft engineered in the 1920s, it had quite a few technical problems, but it might have made it to production if a test pilot hadn’t died while flying a prototype. It starkly illustrated to Ford the risks of putting everyone in the air, and the Flivver was abandoned.
Still, it was enough for the idea to take root in pop culture, and Ford never really abandoned the idea entirely. Up to the late ’50s, it was still debuting designs and looking at engineering concerns. And right around the time Ford debuted its Volante Tri-Athodyne, a 3/8ths scale model of a personal aircraft, the US military began investigating the possibility of the “airgeep,” a small aircraft that could navigate over rough terrain in the battlefield. And, by 1962, it had a viable one, the Piasecki 59-K. In theory, the 59-K had everything you could want in a flying car — a powered undercarriage to roll on, two ducted fans to hover on, surprising agility, and passenger seating. But the military decided the “airgeep” was impractical, and focused on developing helicopters instead.
It’s an ongoing theme for the flying car. It’s possible, and in fact it’s been possible for decades. Making it practical, however, is another matter entirely.