15 June 2004

I Was Promised Flying Cars

At midnight on January 1, 2000, my friends and I stepped out of our apartment to watch the fireworks being fired off on Mount Royal. Despite the millennium hype, the world looked the same -- not just as it did on December 31, but as it had for decades. Where were the paperless offices? The robots to dust the piano? The clean-running flying cars? Movies, books and TV had long been drawing the futurescape for us, but it seemed all that promise had been derailed; innovation was too expensive, too extreme or merely impossible.

Or was the Future just taking longer than expected? The promise, it appears, is still there -- and in keeping with this issue's theme, I set out to discover how close we are to commuting the way they do in those science-fiction shows and movies.

With appearances in Blade Runner, The Jetsons, Star Wars: Episode II and The Fifth Element, flying cars have become the benchmark for determining when our humble race has reached the Future. They are a particularly potent fantasy: should they ever clutter our skies, they�d revolutionize something extremely familiar and quotidian�driving. In fact, attempts to develop flying cars started not long after actual cars hit the road. In 1917, aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss unveiled his aluminium Autoplane�a car flanked by double-layer wings, lifted by a four-bladed propeller attached to the back. It hopped, but never flew. The forties saw the birth of contraptions such as the ConvAirCar, the Airphibian and the Aerocar (which Ford considered marketing in 1970). All three creations could be driven as well as flown. Alas, they all suffered the same fate: although they managed to get off the ground for significant amounts of time, funding problems eventually cancelled the projects forever.

Yeah, me too, although my all time favourite futuretech item is the bloater drive from Bill, the Galactic Hero.

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