I’ve long enjoyed indulging in futurist fantasies. I think millions of my fellow humans do, too. One of the most popular of those dreams must be that of the personal, flying car. Evidently, that futuristic dream is actually rather old. I think it must have been a dream of Leonardo da Vinci, too.
The fantasy of a combination of automobile and airplane as personal transportation seemed more realistic in the 1930s. The Bureau of Air Commerce, the forerunner of the Federal Aviation Administration, encouraged the private development of just such a vehicle.
Developer Waldo Waterman designed and built a prototype flying vehicle called the “Waterman Whatsit”. The body featured three wheels and provisions for a large monoplane wing with rudder fins at the wingtips. There was no tail. Instead, the rear featured a 100 horsepower radial engine that drove a pusher-type propeller. The maiden flight of the Whatsit happened in 1932.
By May of 1935, Waldo Waterman submitted his application to compete in the federally funded “Vidal Safety Airplane” contest. He redesigned and reconfigured a similar vehicle. The styling and design was more trim and efficient and it was powered by a 95 horsepower 4 cylinder engine, mounted higher at the rear of the fuselage.
Waterman’s design was successful in the Vidal competition. This motivated the formation of the Waterman Arrowplane Company. The goal was to produce a commercially viable, practical version of his invention. The new flying car was called the W-5 or the Arrowbile. With more integrated features, the Arrowbile featured conventional car controls and a normal water-cooled Studebaker six cylinder 100 horsepower engine. The very first Arrowbile first flew on today’s date in 1937.
Soon, the Studebaker Automobile Company became interested because their engine was the powerplant. Studebaker placed an order for five of the flying cars. The market was non-existant, so the commercial experiment ended the following year.
Even though the flying car idea wasn’t commercially viable, Watterman built a fourth version, in 1941, and called it the “Aerobile”. It was designed as a regular airplane that was not meant for highway travel. The engine was a 120 horsepower air cooled Franklin. A fifth version was on the drawing board, but was not actually built.
The sixth Arrowbile version was the final one. That Aerobile continued the basic style of the earlier versions but was constructed with standard auto parts to allow for a lower price and to keep the vehicle appearance more car-like. In 1957, Watterman received certification from the Federal Aviation Administration for the experimental category. However, there were no buyers of the vehicle.
So, there really has already been at least one commercially available flying car. It was able to fly safely, but nobody’s dream was big enough to actually purchase one.
The Blue Jay of Happiness wonders what the expression of fellow motorists might be when they encountered an Arrowmobile on the highway.