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Flying car (aircraft)

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Flying car (aircraft)

"Where's my flying car?" on the March 2008 cover of Popular Science, a technology magazine that has reported on flying cars and other futuristic aircraft throughout the 20th century.

A flying car is a hypothetical car that can fly. Fulfillment of this goal is being attempted by personal air vehicles being developed. The term "flying car" has also been used to refer to roadable aircraft and hovercars.

The flying car has been depicted in works of fantasy and science fiction such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, The Jetsons, Star Wars, Blade Runner, The Fifth Element and the first two Back to the Future films as well as in technology magazines such as Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, and Mechanix Illustrated.[1]

The flying car was and remains a common feature of science fiction and conceptions of the future, including imagined near futures such as those of the 21st century. As an example, less than a month before the turn of the millennium the U.S. journalist Gail Collins noted:

Here we are, less than a month until the turn of the millennium, and what I want to know is, what happened to the flying cars? We're about to become Americans of the 21st century. People have been predicting what we'd be like for more than 100 years, and our accoutrements don't entirely live up to expectations. (...) Our failure to produce flying cars seems like a particular betrayal since it was so central to our image.[2]

As a result, flying cars have also been referred to jokingly with the question "Where's my flying car?", emblematic of the supposed failure of modern technology to match futuristic visions that were promoted in earlier decades.[notes 1]


  • Notable flying cars in fiction 1
    • Star Wars (1977–present) 1.1
    • Blade Runner (1982) 1.2
    • Back to the Future and Back to the Future Part II (1985/1989) 1.3
    • The Fifth Element (1997) 1.4
    • The Animatrix (2003) 1.5
  • Real-world flying cars 2
    • Early developments 2.1
    • Modern developments 2.2
    • Feasibility, motivation, and challenges 2.3
      • Engineering 2.3.1
      • Economics 2.3.2
      • Safety 2.3.3
  • In popular culture 3
  • In fiction 4
    • In live action films 4.1
    • In live action television series 4.2
    • In animation 4.3
    • In video games 4.4
    • In literature 4.5
  • List of Flying cars and roadable aircraft 5
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10

Notable flying cars in fiction

Star Wars (1977–present)

Star Wars landspeeder

1977's Star Wars features a landspeeder which hovers just above the ground.

Flying cars, called Bail Organa rides a retro-futuristic vehicle that apart from its flying ability resembles a 1950-style car.

Blade Runner (1982)

"Spinner" is the generic term for the fictional flying cars used in Blade Runner, set in futuristic-cyberpunk Los Angeles of 2019. A Spinner can be driven as a ground-based vehicle, and take off vertically, hover, and cruise using jet propulsion much like Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft. They are used extensively by the police to patrol and survey the population, and it is clear that despite restrictions wealthy people can acquire spinner licenses.[4] The vehicle was conceived and designed by Syd Mead who described the spinner as an "aerodyne"—a vehicle which directs air downward to create lift, though press kits for the film stated that the spinner was propelled by three engines: "conventional internal combustion, jet, and anti-gravity"[5] Mead's conceptual drawings were transformed into 25 working vehicles by automobile customizer Gene Winfield.[6] A Spinner is on permanent exhibit at the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle, Washington.[7]

The DeLorean time machine from Back to the Future

Back to the Future and Back to the Future Part II (1985/1989)

In Back to the Future Part II and the ending of Back to the Future, Doc Brown invites Marty and his girlfriend Jennifer in his modified flying DeLorean time machine, and time travels to the year 2015 where flying hovercars are a common sight.

The Fifth Element (1997)

A screenshot of a flying taxi in the film, placed above a drawingof a flying taxi from a comic book
The Fifth Element's taxi is inspired in The Circles of Power comic[8]

In The Fifth Element, set in 2263 New York City, flying cars are used as main mean of transportation. The production design for the film was developed by French comics creators Jean Giraud[9] and Jean-Claude Mézières.[10] Mézières wrote the book The Circles of Power, which features a character named S'Traks, who drives a flying taxicab through the congested air traffic of the vast metropolis on the planet Rubanis. Besson read the book and was inspired to change the Dallas character to a taxicab driver who flies through a futuristic New York City.[11][12]

The Animatrix (2003)

In the best-selling[13] animated film The Animatrix (part of The Matrix saga), specifically in the episode called The Second Renaissance, appears a supposed TV commercial announcing a flying car called Versatran,[14][15] this episode details the backstory of the Matrix universe, and the original war between man and machines which led to the creation of the Matrix; among its content shows the elaboration of the Versatran propulsion engines, and how those engines will latter be used in Hovercraft battleships like the Nebuchadnezzar (the ship Morpheus and Trinity use to rescue Neo).

Real-world flying cars

Early developments

In 1926, Henry Ford displayed an experimental single-seat aeroplane that he called the "sky flivver". The project was abandoned two years later when a distance-record attempt flight crashed, killing the pilot.[16] The Flivver was not a flying car at all, but it did get press attention at the time, exciting the public that they would have a mass-produced affordable airplane product that would be made, marketed, sold, and maintained just like an automobile. The airplane was to be as commonplace in the future as the Model T of the time.

In 1940, Henry Ford famously predicted: "Mark my word: a combination airplane and motorcar is coming. You may smile, but it will come.”

In 1956, Ford's Advanced Design studio built the Volante Tri-Athodyne, a 3/8 scale concept car model. It was designed to have three ducted fans, each with their own motor, that would lift it off the ground and move it through the air. In public relation release, Ford noted that "the day where there will be an aero-car in every garage is still some time off", but added that "the Volante indicates one direction that the styling of such a vehicle would take".[17]

In 1957, Popular Mechanics reported that Hiller Helicopters is developing a ducted-fan aircraft that would be easier to fly than helicopters, and should cost a lot less. Some estimated that in 10 years a four-place fan would cost like a good car. Hiller engineers expected that this type of an aircraft would become the basis for a whole family of special-purpose aircraft.[18]

In 1956, the US Army's Transportation Research Command began an investigation into "flying jeeps", ducted-fan-based aircraft that were envisioned to be smaller and easier to fly than helicopters. In 1957, Chrysler, Curtiss-Wright, and Piasecki were assigned contracts for building and delivery of prototypes. They all delivered their prototypes, however Piasecki's VZ-8 was the most successful of the three. While it would normally operate close to the ground, it was capable of flying to several thousand feet, proving to be stable in flight. Nonetheless, the Army decided that the "Flying Jeep concept [was] unsuitable for the modern battlefield", and concentrated on the development of conventional helicopters. In addition to the army contract, Piasecki was developing the Sky Car, a modified version of its VZ-8 for civilian use.

In the mid-1980s, former Boeing engineer, Fred Barker, founded Flight Innovations Inc. and began the development of the Sky Commuter, a small duct fans-based VTOL aircraft. It was a compact, 14-foot-long two-passenger and was made primarily of composite materials.[19] In 2008, the remaining prototype was sold for £86k on eBay.[20]

Xplorair PX200 (1/2 scale model) at Paris Air Show 2013

Modern developments

Urban Aeronautics' X-Hawk[21] is a VTOL turbojet powered aircraft announced in 2006 with a first flight planned for 2009. It was intended to operate much like a tandem rotor helicopter, but with ducted fans rather than exposed rotors. The requisite decrease in rotor size would also decrease fuel efficiency. The X-Hawk was being promoted for rescue and utility functions. As of 2013, no flights had been reported.

The Moller Skycar M400[22] is a prototype personal VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) aircraft which is powered by four pairs of in-tandem Wankel rotary engines, and is approaching the problems of satellite-navigation, incorporated in the proposed Small Aircraft Transportation System. Moller also advises that, currently, the Skycar would only be allowed to fly from airports & heliports. Moller has been developing VTOL craft since the late 1960s, but no Moller vehicle has ever achieved free flight out of ground effect. The proposed Autovolantor model has an all-electric version powered by Altairnano batteries.[23]

The Xplorair PX200 is a French project of single-seater VTOL aircraft without rotating airfoil, relying on the Coandă effect and using an array of small jet engines called thermoreactors embedded within tiltwings' body. Announced in 2007, the project has been funded by the Government of France and is now supported by various aerospace firms. A full-scale drone is scheduled for flight at Paris Air Show 2017, followed by the commercialization of a single-seater flying car in the years after.

On May 7, 2013, Terrafugia announced the TF-X, a plug-in hybrid tilt-rotor vehicle that would be the first fully autonomous flying car. It has a range of 500 miles per flight and batteries are rechargeable by the engine. Development of TF-X is expected to last 8–12 years, which means it will not come to market before 2021-2025. The SkyRider X2R is a prototype of a flying car developed by MACRO Industries, Inc. It is lighter than the Moller Skycar.

Feasibility, motivation, and challenges

The widespread replacement of ground vehicles for flying cars might eliminate the necessity for most asphalt roads.

Several challenges to a practical flying car exist.


A practical flying car would have to be capable of safely taking off, flying and landing throughout heavily populated urban environments. However, to date, no vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) vehicle has ever demonstrated such capabilities. To produce such an aircraft would require a propulsion system that is quiet, to avoid noise complaints, and has non-exposed rotors so it could be flown safely in urban environments. Additionally, for such aircraft to become airborne, they would require very powerful engines. Many types of aircraft technologies and form factors have been suggested, such as ducted-fan and tiltrotor vehicles,[24] but most previous designs have suffered from problems; ducted-fan aircraft tend to easily lose stability and have difficulty traveling greater than 30–40 knots,[25] while tiltrotors, such as the V-22 Osprey, are generally noisy.


Due to the requirement of propulsion that is both small and powerful, the cost of producing a flying car would be very high and estimated by some as much as 10 million dollars.[26] In addition, the flying car's energy efficiency would be much lower compared to conventional cars and other aircraft; optimal fuel efficiency for airplanes is at high speeds and high altitudes,[27] while flying cars would be used for shorter distances, at higher frequency, lower speeds and lower altitude.


Although statistically commercial flying is much safer than driving, unlike commercial planes, personal flying cars might not have as many safety checks and their pilots would not be as well trained. Humans already have problems with the aspect of driving in two dimensions (forward and backwards, side to side), adding in the up and down aspect would make "driving" or flying as it would be, much more difficult; however, this problem might be solved via the sole use of self-flying and self-driving cars.[28] In mid-air collisions and mechanical failures, the aircraft could fall from the sky or go through an emergency landing, resulting in deaths and property damage.[29] In addition, poor weather conditions, such as low air density, lightning storms and heavy rain or fog could be challenging and affect the aircraft's aerodynamics.[30]

In popular culture

Complaints of the non-existence of flying cars have become nearly idiomatic as expressions of disappointment in the failure of the present to measure up to the glory of past predictions.

The December 30, 1989 Calvin and Hobbes comic strip depicted an early instance of the "Where are the flying cars?" question:

Hobbes: "A new decade is coming up." Calvin: "Yeah, big deal! Hmph. Where are the flying cars? Where are the moon colonies? Where are the personal robots and the zero-gravity boots, huh? You call this a new decade?! You call this the future?? HA! Where are the rocket packs? Where are the disintegration rays? Where are the floating cities?"[31]

The March 15, 1992 Calvin and Hobbes comic strip featured Calvin and his parents driving on the freeway. Calvin complains, "When are we going to get there? Can't you drive any faster?" His father replies, "I don't like to go much faster than this." Calvin daydreams that he is allowed to take control of the vehicle, discovering a hidden "flight mode" that enables the car to soar to their destination.[32]

Aired on January 8, 1998,

A 2001 IBM television commercial featured Avery Brooks complaining, "It is the year 2000, but where are the flying cars? I was promised flying cars. I don’t see any flying cars. Why? Why? Why?"[33]

Comedian Lewis Black had a similar routine early in the decade, in which he says, "This new millennium sucks! It's exactly the same as the old millennium! You know why? No flying cars!"

The Flying Car was a comedy short film written by Kevin Smith in 2002 for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. It featured Dante Hicks and Randal Graves stuck in traffic, discussing the lengths to which a man might go to obtain such a vehicle.[34]

In 2008, Onion News Network's 245th episode, titled "Mean Automakers Dash Nation's Hope for Flying Cars", featured The Onion's anchor Brandon Armstrong humorously arguing about the feasibility and existence of flying cars with representatives from General Motors, Toyota and Ford.[35]

In fiction

In live action films

In live action television series

  • In the children's TV show, Supercar, the flying car "Supercar" was invented by Rudolph Popkiss and Horatio Beaker, and piloted by Mike Mercury.
  • Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: In this 1993 TV show Power Rangers. Billy the Blue Ranger invents a flying car using the Volkswagen Beetle he dubbed the "Rad Bug" It was useful at times when they couldn't teleport to places.
  • Power Rangers: Turbo In the 1997 season 5, Griller the monster makes cars fly out of control and crash into buildings and on the ground in "Cars Attack". Later on in the episode "The Wheels of fate" a flying red car named Lighting Cruiser is a vehicle that Divatox tried to capture but T.J. captured the car. The Lighting Cruiser has auto driving and can go from wheel mode to flight mode by turning 4 wheels up allowing it to fly and it can fly like a jet. It would be used by T.J. along with Storm Blaster car which was used by Justin Stewart.
  • Buck Rogers (serial) In the 1939 black and white live action TV series After Buck Rogers and Buddy Wade wakes up from their deep sleep They discover a future with flying cars.
  • Marvel's Agents of Shield Characters belonging to the secret spy agency routinely use flying cars designed to look like normal vehicles.

In animation

  • The animated television series The Jetsons, premiered in 1962, reflected the idea that flying cars would become a significant means of transportation in the future. Flying cars were also featured in the film adaptation of The Jetsons.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fast Forward in the 6th season of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2003 TV series. Splinter the Rat and the 4 mutant Turtles Leo, Mike, Ralph, and Don time travel to the year 2105 in a New York city filled with flying cars and wheel cars. Cody Jones also runs Neil Tech industries.
  • In the animated television series, Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century, set in the 22nd century in New London, people use flying cars as main mean of transportation.
  • Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs A scientist Flint Lockwood attempts to build a flying car, but it crashes in the ocean. Later on, Flint Lockwood finally succeeds in building a flying car which he uses to fly up to his machine causing raining food disaster.
  • Despicable Me 2 Lucy Wilde owns a car that has the ability to convert into plane mode and both Lucy Wilde and Felonius Gru make their getaway from the Paradise Mall and the cars wings extend out and it flies away.
  • Home In the 2015 DreamWorks movie, an alien named Oh shows a girl named Tip her car that he wrecked and fixed it into a flying car which they both fly in to save the world.
  • Pinocchio 3000: Flying cars can been seen in the city Scamboville. Mayor Scamboli owns a flying black car, Marline owns a red flying car convertible. The Scambocop owns a flying police car. Pinocchio steals the flying taxi bus and flies in the skyways to find his dad Geppetto while the Scambocop goes on a flying car chase to pull over the flying taxi bus.
  • Meet the Robinsons: In this Disney CGI movie Wilbur takes Lewis as a kid to visit the future in the red flying car time machine and visits the future where flying cars are seen in the sky in the futuristic city made by Robinson Industries.
  • Star Trek Into Darkness: Many flying cars are seen in the skies of San Francisco and London, including flying garbage trucks. The final action sequence showed Spock fighting Khan on top of a couple of flying garbage trucks.
  • Lilo & Stitch: In this Disney cartoon movie the monster alien named Stitch escapes from jail on a spaceship. He then escapes in a red flying car which he pilots in outer space and crash lands on Earth in Hawaii. Later on near the end of the film Stitch can be seen driving his red hovercar.
  • Inspector Gadget's Biggest Caper Ever In this CGI movie the gadgetmobile converts from car mode into plane mode by extending its wings out flying over the hole in the road.
  • Samurai Jack: In this Cartoon Network TV show. Jack has been sent forward in time through the time gate far into the future where he discovers flying hovercars in the city of Aku.
  • Gerry Anderson's New Captain Scarlet: Spectrum owns a fleet of red sports cars (Cheetah RRV), which can extend wings, fire a thruster and either jump over obstacles in its path or fly. Moreover, Spectrum owns a flying motorcycle design (Skyrider, which does not have wheels) and a motor-tricycle design (Stallion Raid Bike). The latter has wings, so it can be launched from Skybase.
  • Phineas and Ferb: In the episode My Ride From Outer Space, the series' title characters repair and modify a crashed alien space-ship into a Hot-Rod themed flying car, they also modified their mom's station wagon into a flying car called The Flying Car of The Future, Today
  • Ben10: In 2 episodes, of the original series, that are set in the future, the title character's grandfather is seen driving a flying future-version of the series' signature Rust Bucket (the old RV that's used as the main transport in the series)
  • Generator Rex: Rex Salazar (the series' title character) is capable of creating bio-mechanical machines out of parts of his own body. One such machine is called a Hover-bike, a fast version of a Motorcycle that has no wheels and can hover a few feet above the ground, which he uses as his main means of transport.
  • Kim Possible: A muscle car, known as The Sloth was restored and used by the title character, Kim, and her twin brothers. The same car is then later modified more extensively as a rocket-propelled vehicle, and it eventually ends-up flying into outer-space

In video games

  • Back to the Future II & III NES 1990: Marty uses a remote control that allows the flying car Delorean to come to Marty whenever he needs to time travel to the years 1955, 1985A and 2015.
  • Space Quest IV The Time Rippers: While Roger Wilco visits Space Quest X: Latex Babes of Estros, he gets kidnapped by women called Latex Babes. After Roger saves them from the Sea Slug monster they take him in a flying car to the Mall in the Galaxy called Galaxy Galleria.
  • Chrono Trigger SNES 1995: In this game you can use the flying car with wings called the Epoch to fly to places and it can allow you to time travel to the years 65,000,000 BC, 12000 BC, 600 AD, 1000 AD, 1999 AD, and 2300 AD or to the end of time.
  • F-zero GX 2003: In the city called Aeropolis Multiplex, while you are racing in a hovercar. There are flying car traffic jams you can see while racing in your hovercar.
  • Wipeout Fusion 2002: There are flying cars that can be seen while racing on the moon.
  • Beam Breakers 2002: In the year 2173 you are driving in a flying car in the skyways dodging other flying cars in cities like "Neo York". There are 57 missions in story mode and the goals include dodging flying police cars, stealing other flying cars, ramming into an opponents, vandalizing restaurants and competing in a flying car race with flying car racers.
  • Eyetoy: Antigrav 2004: This game has flying cars in 4 cities you have to dodge while riding on a hoverboard.
  • Meet the Robinsons video game 2007: Wilbur uses the red flying car time machine to chase after the Bowler Hat Guy and Doris the robot hat who stole the blue flying car time machine. Also flying cars can be seen outside Robinson Industries.
  • Crime Cities 2001: Flying car can be seen flying in the city. Also you can drive your flying car and you can shoot flying cars out of the sky.
  • Samurai Jack: The Shadow of Aku 2004: For Nintendo Gamecube, PlayStation 2. In the futuristic city of Aku, Samurai Jack has to jump on flying hovercars to get from building to building and must be careful he doesn't fall to his death.

In literature

List of Flying cars and roadable aircraft

Roadable aircraft



Flying cars



See also


  1. ^ For example, see Scott, 2007, where she asks "This is not 1901, we all own pocket-sized remote voice receiver/transmitters. The glittering, futuristic year of 2000 was done and dusted over seven years ago... The future is now — so where is my flying car?"[3]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Sammon, pp. 79–80
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Mézières 2004, p. 65.
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ McCarthy, Helen. 500 Essential Anime Movies: The Ultimate Guide. — Harper Design, 2009. — P. 40. — 528 p. — ISBN 978-0061474507
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ Popular Science: Looking back at Henry Ford's Flivver: A plane-car for the man of average means, December 2001 Archived June 2, 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^ Barney L. Capehart (2007). Encyclopedia of Energy Engineering and Technology, Volume 1. CRC Press. ISBN 0-8493-3653-8, ISBN 978-0-8493-3653-9.
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^ Bill Watterson: Calvin and Hobbes December 30, 1989
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^ The Flying Car at the Internet Movie Database
  35. ^ Mean Automakers Dash Nation's Hope for Flying Cars at the Internet Movie Database

Further reading

  • BBC News Flying cars in 25 years, BBC News Online, September 22, 2004.
  • Brown, Stuart F. Why We’re Not Driving the Friendly Skies, The New York Times online, August 22, 2014, and in print on August 24, 2014, on p. AU1 of the New York edition.
  • Feltman, Rachel. Why Don't We Have Flying Cars?, Popular Mechanics, February 21, 2013.
  • Hakim, Danny. A Helicopter of One’s Own, The New York Times online, June 16, 2014, and in print on June 17, 2014, p. D2 of the New York edition.
  • Hodgdon, Theodore, A.; Onosko, Tim (ed.) Wasn't the Future Wonderful?: A View of Trends and Technology from the 1930s"At Last —a Convertible Auto-Plane", in , Dutton, 1979, pp. 152–153, ISBN 0525475516, ISBN 978-0525475514.

External links

  • Roadable Times, pictures and descriptions of over 70 designs of flying cars and roadable aircraft past and present.
  • How Flying Cars Will Work at HowStuffWorks.
  • X-Hawk from HowStuffWorks
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