Brainiac On Banjo #096: At Last – My Flying Automobile!

Sweet birds are flying like the wings of my soul / The warm breeze / The eyes to the sky / Feel the even flow of the change in time — Trey Anastasio, Flying Machines, 2015

I blame Julius Schwartz.

Julie was a major editor at DC Comics from 1944 until he retired in 1986 and, before that, he was one of the nation’s first science-fiction agents. Julie represented — among others — Alfred Bester, Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, and H. P. Lovecraft. He co-founded the World Science Fiction Convention, and before that, co-founded Time Traveller, one of the first science fiction fanzines, partnering with Mort Weisinger and Forrest J. Ackerman. So when it comes to the realms of speculative fiction in prose and visuals, Julie was the nexus of all unrealities.

As a child, I grew up gawking at his science fiction titles Strange Adventures and Mystery In Space, which featured many of the top talents that would soon join him in creating what we refer to as the Silver Age of Comics. In true s-f faction, those stories thrilled us with tales about flying skyscrapers, flying gorillas, and flying cars. The first two were amusing but outside the bounds of likely possibility.

But those flying cars — that seemed very possible. At that time, flying craft had been with us for only about four decades. The first mass-produced helicopter started hovering in 1944, and throughout the 1950s, we were quite busy blowing up rockets on Florida launchpads in expectation of getting it right quite soon. Meanwhile, automobile design had “evolved” with rocket-style features, the most prominent of which being those amazing cutlass-shaped tail fins which looked as though, if push came to shove, we could weaponize.

So in the late 1950s the concept of the flying car did not seem very far-fetched, certainly not to us young’uns. Those of us who were small baby boomers found them to be more of a promise than a fantasy, and Julie, along with many others in our popular culture, served them up to us with alarming frequency. For some 65 years, though, nothing much happened. We would read reports of major companies such as Boeing, Airbus, Toyota, BMW, and Porsche working on their prototypes, and Elon Musk probably has been tinkering with the concept along with everything else that Thomas Edison already hadn’t put his name to.

Hyundai and Uber have teamed up to produce a flying taxi, and, yes, that does bring to mind Schwartz’s “Space Cabbie” series written by Otto Binder and drawn by Howard Sherman in Mystery In Space, starting back in 1954.

This past Friday, the one that happened on August 28th (it can be hard to tell what happened when these days), a Japanese company named SkyDrive, that has been in existence for only eight years, announced the successful testing of its compact SD-03 flying car. According to the New York Times, the pilot-operated one seat, eight motor SD-03 flew at a height of 10 feet for four minutes.

Of course, that is just a beginning, and it is nowhere nearly practical. Nor was the Wright Brothers’ first flight in 1903; it’s a start that proves the likelihood of success or, at the very least, there is reason to continue development. Personally, if I were piloting the thing I’d start off low and slow. SkyDrive believes they could begin commercial manufacturing in 2023. They aim to produce a two-seater that would retail for between $300,000 to $500,000, although the price should decrease by 2030.

Of course, fuel, maintenance, garaging and the inevitable plethora of taxes and license fees are additional, and, as always, your mileage may vary. But it’s a start.

Sadly, Julius Schwartz died in 2004, and whereas he was aware of his ersatz promise to me and my generation, from our conversations over the years, I have no doubt that he was convinced it was going to happen in the near future.

Now, it remains to be seen if it really will happen within my lifetime. That will be a bit of a race, but I’m fine with that. It’s not like I’ll have the half-million to buy one.

However, if it is at all possible, I’ll be in line for a test drive. I’m sure that will be a very long line and I strongly suspect the average age of those of us in that line will be “medicare.” In fact, I have more faith that we’ll have those flying cars in operation this decade than our still having medicare.

What the hell. It’ll be worth it.