The original Blade Runner movie was set in 2019, so now that history has overtaken Ridley Scott’s science-fiction vision – where are our flying cars?
Humankind has dreamt of such an innovation since the birth of the automobile. Joel Trout Rice submitted a patent for a steampunk-style, propeller-driven carriage in the same year as the Mercedes 35 PS, considered to be the pioneer of modern car design. Since then, engineers, sci-fi writers, and crayon-wielding toddlers have all enthusiastically offered their own take on the concept.
We won’t need to dream much longer. Today, the countdown to real-life, commercially available flying cars can be measured in years rather than decades. And by 2050, there may be fleets of self-driving hackney carriages over our heads.
We’ve identified eight of the most thrilling flying car concepts that made it to the patent stage and brought them to life in a new series of digital renders. This is our tribute to all the car designers with their heads in the clouds – the mad inventors who dared to add a gear for “up.”
Henry J Snook’s flying car - 1912- (Patent No: US1069906A)
King of the skies and scourge of the birds, Snook’s airborne Winnebago looks like a real menace – just look at that pair of giant revolving corkscrew propellers. The rotor rods spin right through the chassis of the cylindrical, bus-length chassis, so perhaps they could be painted nicely to resemble a barber’s pole.
Little is known about Henry Snook, but among his other inventions, he created a fire rescue truck and a contraption to harness the power of ocean waves (again using his beloved corkscrew rotor). His flying vehicle may be more Rube Goldberg than Elon Musk, but Snook seems to have never lost the childhood passion for inventing cool stuff that spins and flies and is preferably painted a fetching shade of racing green.
Bruce L Beals Jr’s flying car - 1939 - (Patent No: US2241577A)
Bruce Beal’s bubble-shaped flying automobile appears to have been drawn with Little Miss Scatterbrain in mind. But its shape and weight were in fact designed to operate as the fuselage and motor housing for the vehicle when it takes flight.
The steering wheel mechanism is combined with a shock absorber so as to allow a damage-free landing. And in case you’re a little more “Fools and Horses” than “Mr Men,” Beal stresses his pre-war flying car could work as a four-wheel or three-wheel model.
Einarsson Einar’s flying car - 1959 - (Patent No: US3090581A)
Like any good sci-fi flying car, Einar’s design transforms itself from air- to road-vehicle by means of seamless flaps and hidden compartments for the propellers. The wings can pivot when mounted, and the rotors can be switched between pull and push mode depending on conditions.
Unfortunately, the patent lacks details on the safety features that, frankly, you would want to know about before getting on board this thing. Einar’s sleek airborne sedan may have a Jetsons feel about it, but its lack of legroom suggests drivers might prefer to put their feet on the ground and attempt a running start more reminiscent of the Flintstones.
Jung-Do Kee’s flying car - 1996 - (Patent No: KR100222085B1)
Korean designer Jung-Do Kee decided to solve the problem of poorly-balanced, nose-diving air-cars. His solution? Putting the rear-propulsion propeller at the back and rather fetching horizontal stabilizer plates in front of the main wing. The steering wheel and accelerator pedal are linked to a lifting hoist to add a little more pluck to the front-end as needed.
Now, nobody is suggesting that Jung-do has basically plonked wings and a propeller randomly onto a Renault 5, but… well, okay, that’s exactly what our researcher suggested. Still, it’s a nice little runaround-and-up-and-down.
Bradford Sorensen's flying car - 2001 - (Patent No: US20020139894A1)
Sorensen’s tear-shaped “Roadable aircraft boat that flies in a wind of its own making” is a smooth proposition. Counter-rotating blades draw air into wing-shaped “sucked flaps,” and the difference in pressure above and below these airfoils lifts the beast into the sky. The wings fit neatly into the roof of the roadable aircraft, so there’s no need for ‘Transformers’-style extension and retraction.
Not much is known about Sorensen, but among other inventions, he has also offered a “cylindrical spiral roll of flexible durable material” that takes the pain out of giving birth. Meanwhile, his car patent is relatively recent and at least looks viable, so he is probably keeping a watchful eye on the big-money developments of today’s would-be flying car manufacturers.
Chéng Jì’s flying car - 2001 - (Patent No: CN1377790A)
Now, this “water-flapping flying car” is really something new. Biomimicry (tech inspired by nature) is the word. It looks like something Jeff Goldblum might have chosen to drive as ‘The Fly,’ although the patent claims it to be bird or bat-inspired.
The water-flapping flying car can “sneak into the water like a seabird, use the wings as propellers and control the snorkelling,” and the wings “can be folded like a bird” so that it fits on your driveway. However, it can also fly backwards and perform various other manoeuvres that even our feathered friends can’t do. Bonus points: this vehicle is ready for driverless flight software to be uploaded.
Larry D Long’s flying car - 2003 - (Patent No: US6745977B1)
Mr Long co-authored his 2003 patent application with Terry L. Sturgeon in the noble cause of curing terrestrial traffic congestion.
The vehicle borrows its shape and its interface from the conventional motor car, with an extra steering-wheel-within-a-steering-wheel to coordinate control of the front and rear rotors. Sleek design and multiple horizontal and vertical propellers give Larry and Terry’s flying car the look of a Star Trek shuttlecraft or fancy telephone handset.
Akash Girendra Barot’s flying car - 2016 - (Patent No: US20180065435A1)
Barot’s drone-like vehicle features four vertical lift rotors, spreading the weight of the car evenly to ensure a balanced flight. The quadcopter boasts the ability to rise directly upwards during take-off, a feature that will be appreciated by drivers fed up of getting boxed-in by inconsiderate parkers.
Once more, the Jetsons influence is on display – this time in the vehicle’s suitability to everyday family use (from home to work or to the supermarket). Fittingly, we’ve coated this ‘Corolla-in-the-sky’ in a 1970s-kitchen shade of pea green.
A Vauxhall Vetra or Ford Mondeo offers convenience, yes, but most of us rarely get to drive a vehicle that excites us. Instead, we dream of jetpacks and hoverboards and flying cars just because everything seems more exciting when it’s freed from the strictures of gravity. After all, when the sky’s the limit, you can always find a parking space.
- Einar, E. (1959). United States patent US3090581A. Patents.google.com
- Sorensen, B. (2001). United States patent US20020139894A1. Patents.google.com
- Barot, Akash G. (2016). United States patent US20180065435A1. Patents.google.com
- 기정도 (1996). South Korean patent KR100222085B1. Patents.google.com
- 程纪 (2001). Chinese patent CN1377790A. Patents.google.com
- Long, Larry D., Sturgeon, Terry L. (2003). United States patent US6745977B1. Patents.google.com
- Beals, Bruce L. Jr (1939). United States patent US2241577A. Patents.google.com
- Snook, Henry J. (1912). United States patent US1069906A. Patents.google.com