When Cars Fly!

Though primarily an aircraft manufacturer, the Curtiss-Wright company dabbled in the creation of passenger vehicles with a hover car. Catalogs available in the digital collection feature the Model 2500 and the Bee of this hover car. The following excerpt included on both catalogs, explains how they worked:

The Curtiss-Wright Air Car, employing the Ground Effect Principle, is supported on an air cushion and is designed for operation in close proximity to the surface.

In operation, air is drawn in through an engine-driven fan system, and directed to the base of the machine. When the pressure of the air underneath the machine reaches a value which is approximately equal to the machine weight divided by its plan area, the vehicle lifts off the surface. Equilibrium at a given height is determined when the exit air flow equals the inlet air flow.

The Curtiss-Wright ground effect vehicle utilizes the deflector plate (or annular slot system). The deflector plate machine requires a minimum air flow to achieve a given performance. By expelling the air through the slot, additional height of machine from the surface is achieved by utilizing the downward directed exit momentum. Also, the lower air flows associated with deflector plate vehicle appreciably reduce the inlet momentum drag penalty and permit the deflector plate machine to achieve higher speeds.

The Curtiss-Wright Bee hover car.

Several videos of the cars in action can be found on YouTube by searching for Curtiss-Wright and Curtis-Wright Air Car (both spellings are used, though the catalogs featured here all use the spelling of Curtiss with two S’s).

The Curtiss-Wright Air-Cars did not hold the monopoly on flying vehicles of the 1960s. Marketed as “the car with the built-in freeway,” the Aerocar was a car that took a slightly different approach to flying. Instead of trying to create a regular old car that flew (or hovered), they embraced the idea of adding wings to a car for a more traditional plane look. When not in use, the wings could be folded into a trailer that was towed behind the car. The change-over was said to be as simple as changing a tire and was easily completed by just one person. This combo plane and car could be bought for just $7,500!

Order form for Aerocar model.

Just a few of the features boasted in the literature include average travel speed better than 90 MPH, the ability for immediate mobility to your destination by road or by air, and perhaps most appealingly, the prospect of no more traffic. One of the catalogs even included an order form to purchase a scale model of the Aerocar (shown here) that converted from plane to car and back again just like the real thing!

These companies are just two of several examples of flying cars present in the collection. Don’t worry if you’re more interested in taking to the seas than the skies in your car; a future blog post will highlight combination boat/car vehicles!

Update: Check out this April 2nd article about the flying cars coming to the 2012 New York Auto Show!

Emily Cottle is the Project Archivist/Cataloger for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.