Bill Gurstelle is a Contributing Editor for MAKE magazine. His most recent book is entitled Absinthe & Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously. You can follow Bill on his danger-quest at twitter.com/wmgurst. He is a guest Make: Online author for the month of August.
A flying car is, to many futurists and makers, the epitome of technological progress; the holy grail of personal technological achievement. A car that flies from Chicago to Fort Wayne and an airplane that one can drive to the Piggly Wiggly to pick up eggs and coffee, all in the same package — that’s what I want.
We’re a clever group, so here’s an obvious question: Why is there no flying car in your garage? It’s well into the 21st century, it seems like we’ve had plenty of time to tackle this. Over the next few days, I’d like to a look at what progress (or lack thereof) various individuals and companies have been made towards realizing my dream machine. It’s a long story, and to be honest, not a particularly pretty one.
So, let’s begin considering this question with the words of recent Louisiana gubernatorial candidate Patrick Landry.
“As Governor, I shall seek investors who will bring their capital to Louisiana in an effort to design, develop, and eventually mass-produce an aeromobile. This vehicle, which would revolutionize transportation in America, would be a cross between an ultra light aircraft and an automobile. The intended purpose is to create the ability of lift-off between 55 and 75 MPH, flying at low altitudes for short distances, and conceptually, look similar to an Indy racecar.”
– Unsuccessful 2003 Louisiana Gubernatorial Candidate Patrick “Live Wire” Landry
Patrick E. Landry first threw his hat into the political ring in 1999. Landry, called “Live Wire” because of his background as an electrician, claimed that among his qualifications for high office was his virginity.
Obviously, Landry was something of a fringe candidate. But his virginity, his plan to nuke Baghdad, and his Flying Car Development Platform, got him over 10,000 votes. In fact, in the 2003 governor’s race, Landry came in eighth out of seventeen candidates.
The flying car idea didn’t start with animated cartoons in the 1960s, although most baby boomers probably first imagine something like what George Jetson dropped off daughter Judy of at Orbit High in. Actually, it’s a concept that’s been in the air since airplanes were first invented.
This is the flying car, designed by Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria in 1885. Everyone said he was nuts. But now, 120 years after his death, German scientists have shown him to be one of the unsung pioneers of flight.
Ludwig, whose fantastical castle at Neuschwanstein aptly featured in the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, drew up plans for a flying car more than two decades before the Wright brothers took to the air, but when he tried to build it he was declared insane and stripped of his crown.
Recently German aeronautical experts re-studied Ludwig’s designs and say they would have worked. Sketches recovered from letters between the ruler and Austrian engineer Gustav Koch show the monarch had planned to create a fleet of flying machines that would take him across his beloved Alpine lakes to his many castles, including the fairytale Neuschwanstein.
In my next article, I’ll look at a couple of attempts that came close…