One of the high points of last night’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. debut was Lola, the flying car. In the comics S.H.I.E.L.D flying cars are designed by Stark Industries with the original being a Porsche 904, but neither Stark nor Marvel holds a patent on the concept. The idea of a flying car is staple of science fiction and superhero comics but sci-fi films in particular. The 1980s represented a golden age for the flying car on the big screen: Blade Runner and the Back to The Future films, genre classics for very different reasons both feature flying cars as does 1997’s The Fifth Element. However, the concept is much older than these films, and even though early fantasy films like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang also included flying cars, human beings, those reckless romantics, have been trying, really trying to create flying cars since the early 20th century.
Writing in the July 1927 issue of Popular Science E.V. Rickenbacker predicted the flying car was just twenty years from being a reality, stating “such a forecast is more than pure fancy. It is founded on present progress in automobile and plane design.” He was completely wrong of course, but that doesn’t mean everyone has given up on the idea. According to Esther Inglis-Arkell of Io9, a 1971 prototype of the car was “made by sawing up a Cessna Skymaster airplane and a Ford Pinto, and putting them together.” (Yes, you heard her correctly, a Ford Pinto.) As late of May of this year, Terrafugia, which sounds like the name of a trendy vegan restaurant, continued the near one hundred year assault on practicality, an assault I wholeheartedly endorse, but since 2009 remains stuck in the prototype phase.
The fascination with flying cars is deliciously ludicrous, idealistic, and possessed of a naivete of a simpler time, perhaps that’s why the concept simply won’t die. Despite the logistical nightmares and imminent threat to human life, the flying car embodies an optimism buried in even the darkest bits of cyberpunk: a future of personal freedom, a future of flight .
Writer David Arroyo