“Mark my word. A combination airplane and motor car is coming.” – Henry Ford, 1940

Happy National Transportation Week, also known as Infrastructure Week. Thousands of stakeholders in business, labor, and advocacy are coming together in Washington and around the country to highlight the critical importance of investing in transportation initiatives and infrastructure reform. We hope that message will carry directly to Congress and inspire urgency on this critical issue.

These past few months, our blog topics and social media posts have focused on many serious issues, as we’ve kept you updated on reform plans from Federal to freight. But what about the proposal of eliminating the need for roads entirely?

One of today’s real flying cars, the TF-X™ (photo credit: Terrafugia).

For over a hundred years, sci-fi literature, comics, and film have promised we’d to be commuting to work on wings, not wheels, by the 21st century. Even Henry Ford designed and tested several flying car ideas, and predicted they would be the conveyance of the future. While we aren’t cruising skylanes yet, a few manufacturers are working on street-legal fly-and-drive models, although the earliest expected purchase availability isn’t until at least 2017.

Take a break from transportation fear and frustration and lift off with us on a flight through our favorite fantastical flying cars.

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Some Motorcars Are Different

“But some motorcars—mine, for instance, and perhaps yours—are different.” –Cmdr. Pott

One of the most famous flying cars, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, is a children’s book and character created by author Ian Fleming (who also created James Bond) in the early 1960s. The story has been immortalized in musical film and on stage as well.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang © Ian Fleming Publications 1964, is published in the UK by Pan Macmillan.  The cover illustration is by Joe Berger.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang © Ian Fleming Publications 1964, is published in the UK by Pan Macmillan. The cover illustration is by Joe Berger.

An unconventional inventor, Commander Caractacus Pott, begins tinkering with a broken-down Grand Prix and discovers it has magical properties. The car can not only fly, it can float in water. Chitty communicates with her passengers as well, which is very helpful to Pott and his family, considering they can’t figure out what all the levers do–the self-aware Chitty made modifications to herself when Pott wasn’t paying attention!

In Fleming’s only children’s book, we can see characteristics from his James Bond stories, specifically adventure and a love for cars. Fleming was inspired by legendary driver Count Zborowski. That real racecar, Chitty Bang Bang, had a motor from a Zeppelin dirigible and was named after the sound produced when the car started.

Stranger Than Fiction

“Fifteen whole universes? And we use only one?” –Deety

Robert Heinlein’s modified Ford, Gay Deceiver, was another self-aware car that could fly. Featuring in the 1980 science fiction novel, The Number of the Beast, Gay was a more advanced and mature anthropomorphized auto than Chitty. Her forceful and snarky A.I. personality lends itself to entertaining dialogue with the four geniuses (Zebadiah, Deety, Jacob, and Hilda) who travel with her, while her Continua Drive allows them to break the bonds of space, time, and the bindings of other books–literally and figuratively. The flying and continua craft traveled to other dimensions, including literary ones, such as Edgar Rice Burroughs’s John Carter of Mars, Frank L. Baum’s World of Oz, E. E. Smith’s Lensman series, and some of Heinlein’s other novels’ worlds as well.

We Don’t Need Roads

“Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” –Doc. Brown

The DeLorean time machine in Back to the Future films was a DeLorean DMC-12 modified by Emmett Lathrop “Doc.” Brown, Ph.D., for traveling through time. The car was integrated with the “flux capacitor,” a device invented by Doc Brown, which he describes, “makes time travel possible,” but is interrupted before he can complete the explanation.

A model of the "Back to the Future" DeLorean, on display at The Wormhole Coffee in Chicago (photo credit: B.R. 2015)
A model of the “Back to the Future” DeLorean, on display at The Wormhole Coffee in Chicago (photo credit: B.R. 2015)

The DMC-12 was the only model ever produced by the DeLorean Motor Company, from early 1981 to late 1982. It featured gull-wing doors with a fiberglass underbody. Adaptability of the DeLorean for “flux dispersal” and a smooth ride through the time stream was attributed to the car’s uncoated, brushed SS304 stainless steel body. Traveling at 88 mph activated the flux capacitor, which then required a plutonium-fueled nuclear reaction to generate the 1.21 gigawatts of electricity needed for the flux capacitor to work.

It’s true, the DeLorean time machine was an EV! How would the DeLorean stack up to electrical cars today? Well, the 1,210,000,000 watts of electricity needed to temporally displace the car with its passengers could actually be generated by a few modern sources, such as a nuclear power plant, ten jet engines, 484 wind turbines, 8,066,667 solar panels, or–of course–a lightning bolt. A five-day celebration of the 30th Anniversary of Back to the Future will be celebrated this year in California, October 21-25, 2015.

Misuse of Muggle Artifact

“I believe your father works in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts office?”–Hogwarts Prof. Snape

At the beginning of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, after Harry is locked in his room over the summer by the Dursleys, Harry is shocked when his friends the Weasleys appear at his bedroom window–flying in a Ford Anglia.

The light blue Ford Anglia 105E Deluxe was modified for flight by the Weasleys’ father. It could also turn invisible and comfortably seat eight people and their various familiars, with storage space for six trunks. The boys later fly the car to their boarding school, Howarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Before they can land, the car breaks down, crashes into the magical “Whomping Willow,” and drives off into the Forbidden Forest. The car later appears and saves Harry and his friends from a family of giant spiders.

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The “flying Ford Anglia” on display at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry at “Harry Potter: the Exhibition.” (photo credit: A.D. 2009)

The prop used in the film was stolen in 2005 from the South West Film studios in Cornwall, England, but was later found on the grounds of Carn Brea Castle, a 14th-century stone twin-towered fortress near St Ives, Cornwall.

Supercharged Standard-Issue

“People tend to confuse the words ‘new’ and ‘improved’.” –Phil Coulson

While many real cars starred in Marvel’s most recent film, Avengers: The Age of Ultron, the fantasy four-wheeler we really love is Phil Coulson’s “Lola,” featured most recently in Marvel’s new TV series, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S.H.I.E.L.D. is Marvel’s worldwide espionage, law-enforcement, and counter-terrorism agency.

Lola is a red 1962 Chevrolet Corvette converted with highly advanced technology. Like all the lady agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Lola doesn’t just look pretty. She flies up to 50,000 feet, can propel herself underwater, and is a fully-loaded weapon, with state-of-the-art surveillance equipment, flamethrowers, and machine guns hidden behind the headlights.

Flying Cars first appeared in 1967 in the Marvel Comics anthology series Strange Tales #159 and were standard issue for S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. The original was a modified Porsche 904, but over the years some other models have been incorporated into the fleet, although almost always based on a European car chassis, such as the Porsche Boxter and Aston Martin Vanquish.

The Future is Today

As we drove into the 21st century without a flying car in the sky, many felt let down by modern technology. Currently, however, a few likely flying cars are in the works.

AeroMobil 3.0 flying car (credit: Stefan Vadocz, AeroMobil)
AeroMobil 3.0 flying car (credit: Stefan Vadocz, AeroMobil)

Slovakia-based AeroMobil’s AeroMobil3 drives like any other car, uses regular gas, and fits in a standard parking space, but can take off and land on straightway of just a few hundred meters.

Massachusetts-based Terrafugia has developed the street-legal Transition®, which the company states converts from flight to drive as easily as putting down the top of a convertible and runs on premium unleaded gas (on land and in the air). Terrafugia’s vision for the future of personal transportation is the TF-X™, a four-seat, PHEV flying car with vertical takeoff and landing capabilities.

While flying cars won’t be the solution to our crumbling infrastructure issues in the near future, it’s clear that between imagination and innovation, someday soon highway congestion may be relieved by skyway inventions.

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