Sorry, But You’ll Never Fly Like The Jetsons
Nothing says “The Future” like neon-covered skyscrapers stretching up into the sky, regular and safe space travel, and cars that fly or hover. And, while skyscrapers keep getting higher, and the world’s overcompensating, eccentric billionaires are fully on their way to colonizing Pluto, the only thing we’ll likely never have from the futuristic checklist is cars whizzing about in the sky. Why are we so down on soaring automobiles you ask?
It’s because they’re impractical, highly inefficient, and humans simply can’t handle them.
Not everyone feels this way. Hyundai says flying cars will be a reality by 2030. But we've heard that before. In fact, car manufacturers have been talking about flying cars for as long as cars and the concept of flying have been around. The first patent for a legit flying car is said to have been filed in 1917, and then another one in a similar vein in 1937. But, the common theme in those design ideas is that they were essentially airplanes that were also cars sometimes. They relied on traditional flight surfaces like wings and ailerons to control maneuverability. They were nothing like the magical Star Wars land speeders or Blade Runner cars of which we have grown accustomed to freely associate with as true hover/flying cars. And this stayed the basic concept until science fiction came along to start filling our silly little heads with pipedreams.
As much as we’d love to believe our greatest minds can eventually mirror what we see on TV screens, (the iWatch, for example, blows the Star Trek “communicator” out of the water) most flying vehicles from science fiction rely on technology that’s too impractical to ever be viable. In Star Wars, for example, the land speeder is powered by the concept of Repulsion (also appears in Iron Man) Technology. The idea being that the car literally repulses the gravity that’s holding it down, which is based on some pseudo-science explained in great detail in the Wookiepedia. Basically, it's some magical gobbledygook. We’d have to continually scorch the ground beneath us with rockets to achieve the same effect in real life.
But at least Star Wars attempts to offer some explanation. Blade Runner and Back to the Future don’t even bother to explain how their machines work. It was just taken for granted that in the early-twentieth-century we were definitely going to have anti-gravity cars somehow, and definitely no global pandemics. But spoilers, the idea of anti-gravity is fraught with many problems.
One of which is that, even if you were able to create some sort of anti-gravity field propelling you upwards without the use of any rockets, you would presumably trap everything underneath you in that same field. Your car’s undercarriage would be a floating mass of dust, road debris, sand, and whatever other garbage you picked up from the ground.
Then consider how flying vehicles would be incredibly inefficient. Let’s look to the hovercraft as an example. Now, a hovercraft, not be confused with a hover car, is a very real machine that exists, which uses large fans to propel it forward. It doesn’t hover so much as it glides along its inflatable surface, and it is primarily used on water, though sometimes can travel along smooth landmasses as well.
However, hovercrafts require a ton of energy and they’re notoriously difficult to control on land. The closest anyone came was the Avrocar, a military project that was cancelled because the prototype couldn’t be safely flown more than a few feet from the ground, and only over an airport tarmac. It’s basically a dead-end both financially and scientifically.
And now, for the number one reason why humans will never enjoy a sunset flight in a Subaru – we’re not responsible enough for this sort of thing. The FAA currently requires 60 hours of flight time under an instructor before even being qualified to take a final flight test. And that is not mentioning the ground school and medical certification involved. Assuming the idea is that people will be able to get a flying car license in the same way they get a driver’s license, a few hours at the stick in high school will simply not be enough. There have been close to 140,000 automobile related fatalities from 2016-2019, and 29% of them were alcohol related. Now imagine that in the sky with even greater speeds than on land.
Don’t get us wrong, we enjoy a bleak cyberpunk dystopia filled with sleek flying cars as much as the next nerd. But this is one piece of science fiction that is going to stay fiction for a long, long time.
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