Today Bloomberg revealed that Google co-founder Larry Page is the force behind a pair of mysterious startups, Kitty Hawk and Zee.Aero, both of which are working on plans for a flying car. This should come as no surprise, as eccentric billionaires have been infatuated with the idea of personal, roadable aircraft for decades. Even Henry Ford, the inventor of the automobile, spearheaded his own version, the Ford Flivver.
To be sure, the Flivver failed miserably. (The test pilot died in a crash.) And most flying car concepts remain just that — concepts. The fact that flying cars act as a stand-in for some distant, unattainable future isn’t a mistake. There are many things about flying cars that make them impractical, unworkable, and even wrongheaded. As The Verge’s Chris Ziegler aptly noted two years ago, “[T]he problem is that these aircraft don't solve any problems for normal human beings, nor do they even gesture toward a meaningful impact in the distant future.”
But damn, they look cool, right? I’m not trying to be a hater. Some of my favorite movies of all time feature flying cars, so if Page and his deep-pocketed peers want to turn this science fiction into a reality, more power to them. And Page isn’t the only one interested in the concept of roadable aircraft. Let’s take a journey through the history of the flying car, starting with some of the real-world concepts, and then ending with some of our favorite fictional versions. Strap in!
- Henry Ford said the single-seat Flivver would be "the Model T of the air," but after a prototype crashed in 1928, killing the pilot, the industrialist abandoned the idea.
- The Piasecki VZ-8 Airgeep, also known as the flying Jeep, was developed for the US Army in 1957 to takeoff and land vertically.
- The Sky Commuter is a duct-fan based vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) aircraft designed by former Boeing engineer Fred Barker in the 1980s. In 2008, the remaining prototype was sold for £86k on eBay.
- The Moller M400 Skycar graced the cover of Popular Mechanics in 1991, teasing readers with the ability to "take off from your driveway, land anywhere." To date, the company has yet to conduct a successful test flight.
- The Xplorair, first announced in 2007, was funded by the French Armed Services and plans its first test flight in 2017.
- The Terrafugia Transition has been in development since 2006 and flying since 2009. In 2012, the winged auto flew for eight minutes and reached an altitude of 1,400 feet.
- The AeroMobil 3.0, a two-seat aircraft that can retract its wings and transform into a long roadster, was unveiled in Vienna in 2014.
- The German-made Lillium Jet plans to introduce the world’s first all-electric VTOL aircraft in 2018. It will seat two, range 300 miles, and will reach a max speed of 250 mph.
- Joby Aviation plans on flying its first 12-rotor prototype by the end of the year. Future versions will seat four and look more planelike.
- The Volocopter makes the Joby commitment to rotors look tame in comparison. The helicopter-drone hybrid, which aims to be completely on demand and autonomous, took its first manned flight in Southern Germany earlier this year.
- Zee.Areo is a mysterious startup that is reportedly completely funded by Google cofounder Larry Page, who has spent over $100 million on his flying car dreams.
- A lot of the public’s fantasies about flying cars can be traced back to The Jetsons, the 1960s-era animated sitcom.
- The flying car from 1968’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was originally conceived by Ian Flemming, the creator of James Bond. The original Chitty Bang Bang's motor was from a Zeppelin dirigible.
- Blade Runner, the seminal 1982 sci-fi noir, featured flying police cars call Spinners.
- "Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads." With those words, Back to the Future’s Doc Brown and Marty McFly gave flying cars an 80s-sleek vibe.
- The Fifth Element featured its own flying cop cars, as well as aerial taxis. I wonder if Bruce Willis’ Korben Dallas would ever fly for Uber?
- Ron Weasly used a flying 1962 Ford Angilia to rescue his friend Harry Potter in The Chamber of Secrets.