Flying cars are already here…and you have been in it too. You just don’t know it.

Imagine a cityscape that very much resembles the upcoming game “Cyberpunk 2077”, or the movie “Bladerunner 2049.” City seeping with neon lights, people with cellphones that have holographic display (which is absolutely pointless) and arms made of metal. Tall rising buildings that too have holographic billboards. While all these might look “futuristic,” there is one thing that I need you to pay attention to.

The way people commute in this futuristic city is by using cars that fly freely in the air. This “flying car” has been a staple element in the portrayal of any advanced civilization. Getting in your private vehicle and taking off into the air seems fun. So when are we gonna get this flying cars in our garage? Surely people have started dreaming about these flying cars in recent times, right? Well, making commercial flying cars has been a dream of many enthusiasts since decades. One of them was a man who revolutionized motorcars and the dream of a flying car is almost a century old.

Flying Ford

Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motors was a revolutionary man. He practically created the assembly line for car production which made cars affordable, and Ford richer. But Ford did not just want to stay bound to the roads. He wanted to make a car that could fly. In 1926, he proposed a single seater airplane/car hybrid and named it the “Sky Flivver.” Flivver literally means a cheap plane or car. And that was the idea, an affordable, one-person airplane. But it did not “take off,” pun intended.

Henry Ford. Image : Public Domain.

Ford’s ambitious plans were in a volatile time period filled with the fear of new modes of traveling. It is of great importance to note that Ford proposed this small plane more than a decade before the first practical helicopter took off. So people had no idea what Ford wanted to produce.

Fast forward to 1928, a single-manned flight crashed, killing the pilot unfortunately. This event resulted in two coffins. The other was for Ford’s dream of touching the sky in his Model T. Though his dreams died, his hope stayed alive. In 1940, Henry Ford said, “Mark my words, a combination of airplane and motorcar is coming. You may smile, but it will come.” This confidence was probably due to the invention of helicopter in 1939. But perhaps he did not know that we mammals are so very attached to the surface that we do not like to fly. And having a flying car is all trouble and less practice. I’ll explain why commercial flying cars will never be a thing and how almost everyone in this world has been in a flying car. And no, it is not a helicopter.

Carrying the Torch

After Ford’s bold statements, many others tried to make that a reality. In fact just after 9 years, a man named Molt Taylor did what Ford had dreamt of. He designed and built the Aerocar, (the name is pretty self explanatory.) The Aerocar made a successful flight in the chilly December of 1949. And in this cold and chilly weather, there was a warm news for the future of flying cars. The Civil Aviation Authority approved Taylor to make more Aerocar. But it could never be mass produced.

1949 Aerocar with folded wing, at the EAA AirVenue Museum. Image : Chris857. CC-BY-SA 3.0

The successful flight was a major ignitor for other companies to try and fly. What followed was a series of attempts which was in turn followed by series of failures. Ford tried in 1956, then it was Hiller in 1957, then it was Boeing in 1980s and another attempt in 2006. The only common thing, apart from these companies trying to make a flying car, was they all failed.

Licence to Fail?

So did the projection of the future world was a lie? Why was it that all these companies with millions of dollars at their disposal were failing to produce a flying car, even almost a century after Ford tried? If you think about it (or read ahead), there are some core reasons why a flying car makes no sense. It is not practical, not economical feasible and definitely not futuristic.

Up,Up and Away….Or maybe not.

There is a reason why flying cars have always been a concept. Flying like birds is different from flying for your daily commute. So to make it easier and quicker, I’ll put the big five issue that we face in constructing a flying car.

You need Power.

Driving a car on the road is one thing. But producing lift to lift a heavy vehicle needs a lot of energy, specially when we are talking about VTOL. VTOL stands for Vertical Take Off and Landing. Since we are talking about personal cars, we cannot have a takeoff tarmac in our backyard. This lift needs a lot of energy which means a lot of fuel. Even if people buy a flying car, the running cost would soon mount higher than the car could fly.

Turn the Average Joe into a Pilot.

There are already too many bad drivers on the roads. Now imagine bad pilots. Not only a crash would be more fatal for the passengers, but the collateral damage would be immense. Imagine a flying helicopter crashing onto a building and then falling on the pedestrian laden streets.
So people would have to go for a special training course to become a good pilot. But no matter how many hours they have put in, accidents would be a huge problem.

The dated technology.

When it comes to VTOL technology, we are still using the same old rotor blade technology that was developed way back. New tech such as thrusters or other fuel based propulsion systems is way too expensive to be practically manufactured in a commercial car. Although we have reduced the size of the rotors to fit into a vehicle that can resemble a car more than a helicopter, it is still not commercial.

Add this with the extreme noise of the motor, the hazard of high-speed rotors and what you get is an unattainable scenario of people flying their large drones to work.

The Infrastructure.

It may come as a surprise to you, but airplanes are more like air-trains. The reason why commercial aviation is so safe and successful is because there is an enormous amount of infrastructure that we don’t see.

Airplanes don’t just take off and fly in one direction to reach the destination. There are air routes which they follow to safely traverse. Planes fly in an invisible track up in the sky. To achieve the same thing for people to fly their cars in the city, with many other independently driven flying cars, among hundreds of buildings will need a serious infrastructure. Even then, the whole flying thing would feel restricted. The novelty will die soon.

But even if all these four issues are solved, the fifth and the most sinister problem will always creep in. And no matter what we do or how many dollars we flush in the infrastructure, the fifth problem will remain.

Air Traffic.

The whole point of getting flying cars is to minimize the congestion on the roads. Stuck in traffic? Don’t worry, just push a button and take off into the open skies. But then you take off and see people in their flying cars, just hovering in the traffic, waiting for the congestion to clear out.

To make flying cars successful, companies have to sell a lot of them. A lot of flying cars sold means a lot of flying cars in the air. And that means air traffic. See the issue here? So does that mean we won’t be getting any flying car in the future? We may get one, but the neon-filled cityscape with flying cars and holographic displays won’t become a reality. This doesn’t mean you have not been in a flying car. You have. You just did not notice.

I believe I can fly.

People thought about the benefits of a flying car and found a way to make every car a flying car. They made something called a “Flyover.” The whole point of flying a car is to access the third dimension of space to travel. If you look at it that way, every time you take a flyover, you are flying. Although I’d call it more like an “assisted flight.”

This is how we fly. Image : Public Domain

But it is smart and easy and it works. The traffic is cleared, you don’t need special training to drive your car and you most definitely don’t need to spend a lot on your car to make it fly. So the next time you take a flyover, ignore the road and think of it as a takeoff. Touch the sky and fly to your destination, in your “assisted-flying cars.”

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