I learned a long time ago not to be jealous of others. Sure, I'd love to have the disposable income some people enjoy, which I'd use to clothe myself in Hèrmes scarves—and only scarves—but usually it's just slight pangs of envy at the owner of a beautiful car or house.
This was severely tested last year when my friend Nick started taking flying lessons. Flying is one of those things that was easy to put out of my mind—too difficult, too expensive to learn (not like I'd ever checked)—and here was this young guy who sat right behind me at work shuffling off every now and then for lessons to become a pilot.
He's now a pilot, congrats are in order, of course, and on the bright side a) someone can take me flying and b) I have someone to pepper with questions like, "Do you think a decommissioned Sukhoi Su-27 would be a good starter plane for when I learn to fly?"
But, shit, being a pilot would be so cool.
If the Taylor Aerocar had taken off (har), who knows, maybe I could have bought, driven, and flown one as my first carplanethingy at 16!
Designed by ex-Navy pilot Moulton Taylor, the Aerocar was the absolute closest the world came to seeing a practical flying car join our expressways and regional airports. Other flying cars may get more press—Moller and Terrafugia come to mind—but Taylor's design has been the most successful to date.
Inspired by the Fulton Airphibian, an earlier roadable aircraft with an attachable wing and tail section for flight, Taylor was perhaps inspired by the Navy's extensive use of folding wing aircraft during the Second World War. Designed to save space on the deck of an aircraft carrier (and the hangars within), he knew such a design would be perfect for a road car.
Besides being far faster and easier to go from 'car' to 'plane' and back again, folding wings could allow the vehicle to take up less space in an owner's garage—and so Taylor started sketching.
The very first Aerocar, unveiled in 1949, was unlike anything the world had seen. A detachable tail section and folding wings were towed behind the car (or left behind altogether); the propeller had to be attached behind the car (in a "pusher" configuration); but most importantly it combined the best of car and aircraft.
Sufficiently powerful for highway use with a top speed of 100 km/h (60 mph) thanks to its 143 horsepower Lycoming 0-320 air-cooled flat 4-cylinder engine that drove the front wheels through a 3-speed transmission.
Flip the rear license plate up, attach the propeller, wings, and tail (a process completed in an as-advertised five minutes), and you were ready for take-off.
Once airborne, its cruise speed of 156 km/h (97 mph / 84 kn) was pretty good, with a maximum speed of 188 km/h (117 mph / 102 kn) for the days where you really must get someone somewhere quickly—there were only two seats.
"You're about to jump out of a perfectly good airplane Johnny, how do you feel about that?!"
With a flying range of 483 km (300 mi), it would have been ideal for weekend getaways and short jaunts. Land, detach the propeller, flip down the license plate, and take five minutes to fold the wings and you were ready to hit the road again!
With an agreement in place to enter production at a price of around $25,000 (a not-inconsiderable sum in the 1950s) if 500 orders were placed, Taylor could only secure 250 willing customers—and the Aerocar was relegated to the "what if" pile of roadable aircraft designs.
Six were completed, with one (N103D) having a noteworthy career as a traffic watch aircraft in Portland, Oregon, for the KISN 910 AM radio station—a career that started a few years after an incident in Cuba involving Raúl Castro and a wayward horse.
Of the six, one or two are sometimes offered for sale, at a price always north of $1 million US. Pricey, but if my fantasies come true I'll soon be landing mine at an airport near you…clad only in Hèrmes scarves.