July 9, 2012
Ever dreamed of owning your own flying car… from the 1950s? If you happen to have $1.25 million lying around, you can make that happen!
It seems every year we see companies like Terrafugia and Moller promise that the flying car will soon be an everyday reality. But people often forget flying cars have been around for over half a century. Greg Herrick, an aircraft collector in Minneapolis, is selling his 1954 Taylor Aerocar N-101D with an asking price of $1.25 million. His flying car of the retro-future sports a yellow and black body and as you can see from the photo above, still works!
Herrick has over 40 aircraft in his private collection and the Aerocar was one of the first he ever purchased. He bought the flying car in the early 1990s from a man in Idaho and says he was drawn to the Aerocar just as many people in the latter half of the 20th century were. ”I was just at the tail end of that generation that kind of grew up with that dream of… well, I guess every generation has had that dream since the [invention of the] automobile — of a flying car,” Herrick told me.
The Aerocar was designed by Moulton Taylor in 1949 and only five were ever produced. In order to take flight the Aerocar must be converted into an aircraft with wings that fold forward. Though it looks cumbersome, the vehicle was marketed in the early 1950s as being so effortless that a woman could do it “without soiling her gloves.” The video below is a newsreel about the Aerocar from November 5, 1951.
Herrick’s Aerocar was first listed for sale in December 2011. His most recent listing includes some of the specs:
The AEROCAR features side-by-side seating for two. Advanced for its time, most of the fuselage skin is of composite material and the car is front wheel drive. In flight the wings are high and unobtrusive. Powered by a Lycoming O-320 Engine the propeller is mounted at the end of a long tail cone, the latter angled up for propeller clearance. Cruise speed is about 100 mph. Takeoff speed in 55 mph and the airplane is controlled by the same steering wheel as is used for driving.
But why sell it? ”I like rarity. I like unusual things,” Herrick tells me. “I like things that represent progress or tell a story. But as time passes your tastes start to become more refined. And no matter what it is you’re doing you can’t collect everything and you can’t be an expert in every area. So my interests began to migrate toward the golden age of aviation between the wars — in particular the aircraft that were almost lost to history. So this airplane is kind of superfulous to my needs.”
But if you’re thinking about buying this blast from the past don’t forget that you’ll need two kinds of insurance! “When I bought the thing, I was looking at the insurance and I had to have two different insurance policies: an aviation policy and then I had to get an auto policy,” Herrick said. Making sure you have two kinds of insurance is certainly one of those realities that The Jetsons never warned us about.
January 6, 2012
The first known case of aircraft being used in police work was in 1919, when famed Canadian aviator Wilfrid Reid May flew a detective in pursuit of a dangerous fugitive from Edmonton to Edson (landing in a town street). In the decades since, law enforcement aviation units have utilized planes, helicopters, blimps and, most recently, unmanned aerial drones.
Notably absent from that list are heavily-armed flying gondolas. But that’s precisely the idea presented in the February, 1936 issue of Everyday Science and Mechanics. An article by editor Hugo Gernsback–considered by many to be the father of modern science fiction– predicted that, as long as police officers were stuck on terra firma, the mobsters always would have the edge:
The automobile, as a quick get-away instrument in crime, has assumed vast proportions during the past decade. Notorious gangsters and their henchmen are always using high-powered automobiles and, unfortunately, they are often able to outwit local police and state troopers after the crime has been engineered. Very frequently, the license number and a good description of the car is obtained by the police but, as a rule, so much time is lost in distributing such information from Police Headquarters that the criminals can make a clean getaway. Usually, the crime car is abandoned a little later, after the gangsters have changed to another.
Gernsback, who was a pioneer in the field of radio and helped to popularize the word “television” in the United States (he’s sometimes mistakenly credited with coining the word), couldn’t help but mention the advances short-wave radio had made in assisting police of the era. However, Gernsback acknowledged that more than just better communication would be needed to stop the gangsters of the future. Our noble author is also sure to mention that the gondola is “streamlined,” a popular design choice for the 1930s, when even humans were determined to be outfitted for the fast and aerodynamic future.
It is true that short-wave radio, in connection with police cars, has been able to decrease crime somewhat; but this is true mostly in large cities. Once the fleeing gangsters take to the rural highways, it is usually impossible for the police to overtake them.
A means is here proposed to enable the police to move quickly about, and apprehend, criminals, via airplane. A number of municipalities now have airplanes, and most of them are being equipped with police radio. But it is one thing to notify an airplane that a car is heading in a certain direction on the highway, and another to stop the car by airplane. The reason for this is that the modern airplane cannot come too close to the ground and, even if it did, it could do so for only a very brief space of time, measured in seconds. Suppose we have instead a police plane equipped with a separate gondola, which is streamlined, and which can be lowered from the plane by a steel cable. By means of the plane’s engines, the gondola can be lowered or raised quite rapidly, while the plane can fly from 300 to 400 feet above the ground. The gondola, which swings free, except as it is supported by the steel cable, can assume a partially independent motion of its own, because it has a rudder and elevators to steer it, like a glider. It can, therefore, independent of the airplane, veer to the right or the left, and even turn about in the opposite direction, should this be necessary. The mobility of the gondola is, therefore, greater than that of the plane.
October 20, 2011
Almost 100 years ago, in the year 1912, Harry Grant Dart illustrated for Life magazine what the World Series of the future might look like. If you look closely, you’ll notice that the scoreboard shows New York is squaring off against London, as it was common for sports fans of the time to imagine that one day the World Series might truly include baseball teams from around the world. Naturally, airships (similar in appearance to another illustration by Dart from circa 1900) are sailing above the stadium. Some of the airships appear to be selling score cards, others peddling souvenirs, and one is even selling opera glasses to the spectators perched on nearby buildings. While some spectators peek through telescopes trying to get a free look at the game, others have purchased reserved seats in bleachers atop nearby roofs. One sign reads “Reserved Seats Including Elevator Ride and Telescope – $4.00.” This entire set up reminds me of the seating you’ll see on roofs just outside of Chicago’s Wrigley Field, where some apartment building owners began building bleachers in the 1990s. To prevent people from watching the game for free, some stadiums will even construct spite fences to obstruct the view from nearby rooftops.
Harry Grant Dart is hands down one of my favorite cartoon artists of the early 20th century—and though he’s relatively obscure, he has thankfully gained better recognition over the last few years with the rise in popularity of the steampunk movement. Dart’s often humorous depictions of life in the future graced the pages of magazines like Life, Literary Digest, All Story and Judge.
The scan of this cartoon comes from the book Predictions: Pictorial Predictions from the Past by John Durant.
October 6, 2011
After the news of Steve Jobs’ death hit the Internet last night I sat for a bit reading heartfelt messages on Twitter. It wasn’t lost on me that I was sitting at an Apple computer while my iPhone sat on the desk next to me. Like many people around the world, I own some of the futuristic tools that Jobs helped give to the world.
A great number of people on Twitter were comparing Steve Jobs to other notable visionaries of the past: Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, Nikola Tesla. But it was a comparison that James Lileks made last night that felt most appropriate. Lileks wrote on Twitter, “My daughter’s really sad Steve Jobs died. For her generation, it’s like losing Walt Disney.”
Jobs was truly a futurist in the tradition of talented showmen and a storytellers like Walt Disney. It’s one thing to understand what the future might hold, as I believe both Jobs and Disney did, but it’s another thing entirely to be able to communicate that vision of the future with both passion and poise to a broad audience. Jobs, like Disney, brought into our homes that passion for innovation and a confidence in technology’s ability to improve our lives.
Steve Jobs certainly had his detractors both in and outside of the tech community. It was easy to parody the particularly intense zeal that so many had for Apple products, and by extension the special brand of technological optimism that Jobs presented with sincerity. But it’s both the sincerity and the optimism in his presentation of the future that made Jobs so special today. Sincerity and optimism make futurists vulnerable, especially during dark economic times. In 2011, it takes tremendous fortitude to present hopeful futures that aren’t drenched in a thick mist of ironic detachment or futile pessimism. This is not to say that a healthy skepticism is not an essential skill to exercise when dealing with futurism, but sometimes people romanticize a version of the past that shows its own kind of naivete.
Victor Cohn, in his 1956 book 1999: Our Hopeful Future, helped put this idea of technological pessimism into perspective:
“The prophets of misery and robotism too often focus their sights on the cocktail party instead of the school. They describe the life of past generations in nostalgic terms, but do not really compare the lives of average housewives or factory workers today with the lives of their grandparents and with the drudgery, ignorance and poverty that characterized and blackened the past.”
Futurism is a great foil for the concerns and problems of any age. The pages of Judge and Puck magazines at the turn of the 20th century delivered important social and political commentary through tongue-in-cheek futurism. But it’s the wide-eyed optimists — the dreamers of every decade — who were often sticking out their necks by believing that the future could be better for humanity.
The optimistic future of jetpacks and robots and space travel that so many pine for today was presented by men like Walt Disney through television and film. With any luck, future generations may very well point to the optimistic visions of Steve Jobs as yet another golden age of futurism.