The Omniscient Eye

Where Are the Flying Cars?

Retro-futures are "in" these days, what with assorted steampunk fictions and upcoming movies like Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow. Ignoring questions of unrealistic 20th-century optimism, and setting aside the issue of money in a foolhardy manner . . . why don't we have flying cars, or personal flight backpacks, or dirigible mass transit? Is there a valid engineering or technical reason?
       -- Bob Portnell

All of those have been built, but none of them perform well enough to justify buying them.

A quick google on "flying car" will turn up many examples of flying cars, many of them technically adequate, none of them commercially successful. To get a sky full of flying cars they have to not be just technically practical and financially affordable, but also better than competing options. No flying car has beaten out buying separate planes and cars. That's a common combination; almost all private plane owners also have a car. There's a similar situation with the amphibious car -- lots of people own a car and a boat, but only the US Marines are buying brand new amphibious vehicles.

A flying car is a compromise between cars and planes. This keeps it from matching the performance of either one. A pure airplane doesn't have to provide engine power to its wheels, or keep its wings narrower than a standard road lane. Regular cars can have tall cabins to increase passenger and cargo space (which would trash a plane's aerodynamics) and include . . .

This article originally appeared in the second volume of Pyramid. See the current Pyramid website for more information.

Article publication date: August 13, 2004

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