Avery Brooks perhaps said it best in his 2000 IBM commercial: “It’s the year 2000, but where are the flying cars? I was promised flying cars! I don’t see any flying cars! Why? Why? Why?” In some of the earliest visions of the future ever dreamed up, the concept of personal travel evolving from land based to air based is often referenced. Already more than a decade into the 21st century, the absence of air based automobiles is an obvious, glaring failure in human progress.
While today’s skies are not dominated by airborne Fords and Toyotas, science fiction has often presented inspiring examples of automobiles not confined to asphalt. Some early examples, such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang endowed their vehicles with magical or mysterious methods for attaining light, while future flying cars seemed to be more mechanical in nature, the product of human ingenuity and invention.
The following are 10 of Science Fiction’s most influential and memorable flying cars. But what exactly gets a vehicle classified as a flying car? First, it has to be able to drive on a road on a set of wheels. That means no hovercrafts, airplanes, or Uncle Owen’s Landspeeder. Additionally, the vehicles on this list, while fictional, must achieve their lift through mechanical means, so sorry kids, but no magical cars flown by Harry Potter. So now that the rules are in play, sit back, and enjoy your flight.
10) Eagle 5, Spaceballs
While certainly not the most sleek or graceful craft on this list, Eagle 5 is certainly the most livable. Its outward appearance, essentially a beat up Winnebago with wings, is the perfect vehicle for a family of space bound rednecks or interstellar vagabond Lonestar and his Mawg Barf. While not particularly high class living, a pair of bachelors like Lonestar and Barf can certainly get by in this mobile home of the stars.
While her exterior may say 1980s hooptie, it’s what’s under the hood that counts. While we don’t get to see how fast she can go on land, we do know that she’s capable of “hyperactive” travel. While she’s not apparently armed with offensive weaponry, Eagle 5 is equipped with sophisticated countermeasures of the raspberry variety. Eagle 5 may not have much in the way of looks, equipment, special features or even class, but she sure as hell is memorable.
9) S.H.I.E.L.D. Flying Car, Strange Tales #159
The flying car has often been a staple of comic books. S.W.O.R.D. has used them, She-Hulk had one for a time, but the original, the classic will always be the one designed by Tony Stark for S.H.I.E.L.D.
Essentially a modified Porsche 904, it became a vehicle of choice for agents. Numerous design changes have been implemented through the years, always based on a European car chassis, with it’s flying mechanics remarkable similar in design to the Delorean. The big difference between the two however, is that while the Delorean is a car of science and exploration, the S.H.I.E.L.D. flying car is made for actions, armed to the teeth with cannons, missiles, and tons of state of the art surveillance equipment. The car, though altered many times in the Marvel continuity, still makes appearances, most recently in this past June’s Invincible Iron Man.
8) Scaramanga’s 1974 AMC Matador, The Man with the Golden Gun
Hot on the trail of famed, high accuracy assassin Francisco Scaramanga, Roger Moore’s James Bond and his temporary redneck sidekick Sheriff J. W. Pepper have the Man With the Golden Gun seemingly cornered in an hanger. Approaching by foot, the pair are shocked when the hanger doors drop open, and Scaramanga’s AMC Matador exits, having grown a pair of wings and a jet engine. Taking off with special agent Goodnight shanghaied in the back, Scaramanga leave his pursuers behind, and has single handedly made a piece of crap AMC Matador into one of the coolest Bond vehicles ever designed.
AMC actually did make a Flying Matador model like the one in the film which toured the country at numerous auto shows. It appearance in the film was limited to a drive down a runway, as the real world Flying Matador only had a range of 500 meters. A remote controlled model was used for the more complex aerial sequences in the film.
7) Thunderhawk, M.A.S.K.
The Dead Milkmen said it best: “When I drive past the kids, they all spit and cuss, ’cause I’ve got a bitchin’ Camaro and they have to ride the bus.” When Matt Tracker formed the Mobile Armored Strike Kommand, or M.A.S.K., his first order of business (aside from creating a team with a acronym that would inspire Mortal Kombat for years to come) was to design a vehicle fit for the leader of a secret underground team of crime fighters. His vehicle of choice when fighting Wilford Brimley and the forces of V.E.N.O.M. is Thunderhawk, a red Camaro which converts into a heavily armed gull-wing aircraft.
Of course, simply by installing Lambo doors on a Camaro doesn’t grant it the ability to fly, but that didn’t stop most ’80s six-yea-old males from thinking it was possible. Throw in a couple energy weapons, a pair of bombs and some military grade restraints (to prevent Matt from falling out every time he banked left) and you have one of the most combat effective flying cars in fiction.
6) The MADMobile, Inspector Gadget
It’s pretty sad when the fiendish Dr. Claw is unable to thwart the most bumbling bionic gumshoe ever, the infamous Inspector Gadget. M.A.D.’s evil plots, though always foiled by the Gadget family, always had a sense of style and a certain level of evil genius behind them, and Dr. Claw’s personal transportation reflects that style.
Dr. Claw’s MADMobile is certainly sexy, jet black with red and silver trim, the MAD logo stamped on the side and hood. It’s style is only accentuated by it’s abilities, being able to not only convert to a powerful aircraft, but also a submarine, giving it unlimited mobility. The Mad Mobile also packed a punch, loaded with explosive weaponry. Though he remained unseen through the series, Dr. Claw’s roadster certainly left its mark as one of the most iconic fling cars in animation.
5) 1966 GAZ 21 Volga “Black Lightning”, Black Lightning
When given a classic Volga for his birthday, Dimitri had no idea that his new ride wasn’t ordinary. It wasn’t until being chased by gangsters that he learned the true nature of his car. Created by a secret Soviet defense project, the ’66 Volga is equipped with a repulsor system and rocket boosters.
Initially, Dimitri uses his newfound abilities for his own personal gain, bypassing treacherous Moscow traffic to deliver flowers quickly. In a Spider-Man-like moment, Dimitri’s father is murdered, triggering a Peter Parker like transformation from self-serving kid into a vigilante, fighting crime from the skies above Moscow. The public dubs him Black Lightning, and his quest to avenge his father cleans up the streets and attracts the attention of major criminal elements.
Things come to a head when evil entrepreneur Kuptsov, as part of an evil diamond mining plot, forces the Black Lightning creators to convert his Mercedes into a heavily armed version of the flying car. While clearly outgunned and outclassed by the luxury version of the flying car, the ’66 Volga Black Lightning has a tremendous amount of style, a classic feel that the Mercedes cannot pull off.
4) The Star Car, The Last Starfighter
It was obvious when Alex Rogan sat down in the back of Centauri’s car that it was not a typical automobile. From the outside, it looks like a cross between a Delorean and Automan’s Digital Lamborghini, thanks to it’s extremely sleek lines, metallic silver paint and gull wing doors. On the ground it hugs the road tighter than a fangirl hugs Nathan Fillion, easily maneuvering down windy roads at speeds in excess of 300 miles per hour. It’s a chance encounter with a roadblock that forces Centauri to show off the additional features of the Star Car, as the tail end of it opens to reveal a pair of futuristic engines.
As the Star Car easily clears the roadblock it continues up, breaking through the atmosphere and arriving in space with seemingly no effort at all. Though their destination of Rylos is apparently light years away, the Star Car is equipped with a Rylan version of a hyperdrive, and they arrive there seemingly quickly. Of could, the badassness of the Star Car is easily eclipsed as soon as you see a Gunstar for the first time, but for a flying car, Centauri’s ride is pretty sweet. An interesting thing to note is that The Last Starfighter wasn’t the only appearance for the Star Car; it makes a cameo in Back to the Future II as a car parked on the street in Hill Valley circa 2015.
3) Spinner, Blade Runner
Ridley Scott’s visions of the future have — until recently — seemed grounded in reality. A perfect example of a plausible near future being the universe he created in Blade Runner. In an uber industrialized future, cities have become sprawling landscapes with equally sprawling populations. That being said, it would be easy to imagine how bad traffic could get. With space being a premium, the only place to go to accommodate such a populous would be up, hence the Spinner.
On the ground, the Spinner functions as any typical car would. However, once the purge feature is activated, it lifts off the ground and becomes airborne. It’s name comes from the rotations it make during takeoff, spinning in the air as it climbs. While it seems that Spinners are reserved for the elite of Blade Runner society, government agencies including the police are seen to use them. While they don’t seem to carry armaments, they appear to be one of the more realistic visions of a flying automobile, one that wouldn’t seem out of place in the Los Angeles of the near future.
2) The Gay Deceiver, The Number of the Beast
All of the cars on this list can fly. Some of the cars on this list can travel through time, but only Robert Heinlein’s Gay Deceiver trumps that. In The Number of the Beast, flying car is a frequent and popular mode of transportation for the people of that time. Flying cars are quite ordinary for the characters of the book, a technology taken for granted as ordinary, until our heroes step foot aboard the Gay Deceiver.
Heinlein specifically did not describe the physical appearance of Gay, merely describing it as a Ford. What he did go into great detail were the numerous capabilities she offered. First, Gay was equipped with a sentient and snarky artificial intelligence system. While most people did not need computer assistance with flying cars, the female AI was a requirement for some of the other features. While the first time machine that comes to most people’s minds these days is the Doctor’s TARDIS, the Deceiver also had the ability to traverse the time streams, but even the TARDIS was lacking in comparison to the Deceiver in one way: The Continua Drive.
Not wanting to be tied down to the realms of reality, the Gay Deceiver’s Continua Drive allows the car to traverse other dimensions, including fictional ones. The Deceiver’s travels bring our protagonists to such universes created from the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Frank L. Baum, and even make a pit stop in another Heinlein universe. Eat your heart out, TARDIS, I want a car that lets me visit Star Wars, Star Trek, and Westeros.
1) Doc Brown’s Delorean DMC-12, Back to the Future
There truly can only be one possible selection for the top of this list. The Delorean wasn’t a particularly popular or memorable vehicle when first released in 1981. A slump in the automobile market combined with the drug arrest of Delorean’s founder killed the car company after only 6500 DMC-12’s were produced, and the Delorean company vanished into obscurity, until a particular film about time travel was released with a Delorean as one of its stars.
Eccentric scientist Doctor Emmett Brown’s Flux Capacitor enabled a vehicle to travel forwards and backwards in time, so long as it could reach a speed of 88 miles per hour. Brown’s vehicle of choice, a DMC-12, combined with some gas and of course the ever necessary and readily available plutonium, send Marty McFly back into his own past on a quest to get his parents to get freaky. A time traveling car is badass in it’s own right, but after some modifications from the future, roads become optional.
Apparently, in Hill Valley 2015, trash powered flying cars are the norm, so Doc Brown’s addition of a hover converter and a Mr. Fusion power system is not something out of the ordinary, but back in 1985, a flying Delorean is jaw dropping. Between three films, an animated series, and years of fandom, the Delorean is easily the most memorable and recognizable flying car.
A fan of video games and science fiction from the moment he discovered his father's Atari 2600 and Star Wars, Jason Helton has been contributing to The Robot's Voice since 2011. Prior, he wrote for the UK's Den of Geek and was the producer and host of Iron Otaku Radio on XM's UPOP 29 channel. A die-hard fan of Battlestar Galactica (both old and new), Doctor Who, and pinball, you can follow him on Twitter @Razgriz1138.