TRAVELLERS have long envied the birds. In 1842 William Henson, a British lacemaker, optimistically filed a patent for an “aerial steam carriage”. It took another 60 years and the arrival of the internal combustion engine before Orville and Wilbur Wright flew the first practical aeroplane. In the 1920s Henry Ford began tinkering with the idea of making cars fly. “You may smile,” he said. “But it will come.” In 1970 his company considered marketing the Aerocar, one of the few flying-car designs that managed to gain an airworthiness certificate.
Yet flying cars have never taken off. That is not because they are impossible to build, but because they are, fundamentally, a compromise, neither good on the road nor graceful in the sky. They are also inconvenient. Most designs require a runway to take off and land, and a pilot’s licence to operate.