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The Taylor Aerocar: History of a Flying Car

All things Aerocar on Automobile.

Taylor Aerocar Essential History

Powered flight and practical automobiles emerged at about the same time, and inventors have been trying to merge them ever since. Few have done so with the verve of Moulton Taylor, who founded Aerocar International in the late 1940s, a time when civil aviation was booming thanks to a new generation of pilots trained in World War II. Inspired by Robert Fulton Jr's Airphibian, the first roadable plane to be certificated by the Civil Aeronautics Administration, Taylor was determined to invent his own practical flying car.

Aerocar I / Taylor Aerocar

Aerocar International's first effort was the Aerocar (sometimes known as Aerocar I or Taylor Aerocar), built in 1949 and first flown in 1950. It had a small two-passenger cabin with wheels housed in external airplane-like spats. A Lycoming O-320 horizontally-opposed four-cylinder aircraft engine, mounted in the rear of the cabin, produced 143 hp and drove the front wheels through a three-speed manual transmission. The engine connected to a pusher propeller via a shaft hidden behind the rear license plate. The Aerocar had a top road speed of 67 mph and a cruising speed of 55-60 mph. In the air, it had a top speed of 110 mph, a cruising speed of 100 mph, a 12,000-foot service ceiling and a range of 300 miles.

What set the Aerocar apart from the Airphibian was that its wings and tail did not have to be left behind at the airport—they folded into a self-contained package that could be towed behind the car like a trailer. (Among the advantages for this design was that if an Aerocar pilot ran into bad weather, he could land at the nearest airport and drive until the storm passed.) Conversion from car to airplane took between five and ten minutes, and a safety device prevented the engine from starting if the wings, tail, and other flying hardware were not securely attached.

Taylor Aerocar II Aero-Plane

Taylor was able to secure funding from investors, leading to CAA certification for the Aerocar in 1956, but while Taylor sold prototypes for $15,000, he was unable to secure a deal for volume production. Only five were constructed, plus a sixth that was built as a flying-only model called the Aerocar II Aero-Plane. Taylor rebuilt one into the Aerocar III, and the other four still exist, at least one of which is in flyable condition.

Taylor Aerocar III

Taylor developed the Aerocar III in 1968, basing it off an Aerocar I that was damaged in a traffic accident. It had a more streamlined fiberglass body with enclosed fenders. The wheels were retractable, and would be fully extended for takeoff and landing, partially retracted for road use and completely retracted in flight. Airspeed was increased to 135 mph. The intention was to sell it for under $10,000, or about $4,000 more than a new 1970 Cadillac Coupe de Ville but $2,000 less than a Cessna 150. An article in the August 1971 issue of Popular Mechanics reported that the Aerocar III was comfortable to drive and exceptionally stable in flight. Only one Aerocar III was produced, and it can be seen at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington.

Taylor Aerocar Problems

While they were indeed capable of both road and air travel, the Aerocars (like most flying cars) were compromised. They were cramped and noisy by car standards, heavy by plane standards, and slow both on and off the ground. The equipment needed for road travel (clutch, transmission, headlights, etc.) accounted for some 300 lb of the Aerocar III's 1,500-lb weight. Fuel economy wasn't, great, either: 15 mpg on the road and 8 gallons per hour in the air, compared to 6 gph for a two-seat Cessna 150.

With Aerocar production failing to take off, Taylor concentrated on developing light aircraft, though he continued to express his belief that the flying car would eventually become part of American culture. As late as 1989, Taylor envisioned a conversion kit to fly a Honda CRX, though it was never built.

Taylor Aerocar Highlights

The Taylor Aerocar I completed 700 flight hours and 20,000 road miles before the CAA approved it for production. The original Aerocar met all automotive safety standards in the states that had any such standards.

Radio station KISN in Portland, Oregon, used an Aerocar I for traffic reports, with the tagline "Knows the traffic, 'cause it's been there!"

Moulton Taylor nearly secured a manufacturing deal with a Texas aircraft manufacturer called Ling-Temco in 1961. They required Taylor to secure 500 orders with a proposed selling price of $8,500. The deal fell through after the sales department spent the money the company needed for tooling on a massive advertising and publicity blitz.

Taylor's intention had been to build a sporty car, and the Aerocar III's styling was inspired by the Jaguar E-Type.

In 1970, the Aerocar III caught the attention of Lee Iacocca, then president of Ford. He commissioned a study which concluded that there was potential for 25,000 Aerocar sales per year. The Department of Transportation was concerned about so many commuters suddenly taking to the sky, and Ford was worried about potential blowback. Officially, the project was scuttled when Ford engineers determined that modifying the Aerocar to meet then-current automotive safety and emissions standards would cost $400 million and potentially render it too heavy to fly.

In the early 2000s, Ed Sweeney, owner of an original airworthy Aerocar I that he was taught to fly by Molt Taylor himself, designed a flying car based on a Lotus Elise. He used a design similar to Taylor's proposed flying CRX and called it the Aerocar 2000. The project appears to have been abandoned before flight testing could be completed.

Taylor Aerocar Buying Tips 

Though only five examples were made and at least two are currently in museums, the opportunity to buy an Aerocar isn't as rare as you might expect. One Aerocar, with the aircraft registration N103D, has been in storage since 1977 and is currently for sale with an asking price of $2.2 million. That may be an unrealistically high price, though, as N101D was auctioned by Barrett-Jackson in January 2020, and sold for a mere $275,000.

Taylor Aerocar Articles on Automobile

Aerocar International is only one of many efforts to make wheels take wing.

Moulton Taylor is no longer around, but his spirit lives on.

There's still no first-flight date for this $400,000 flying car.

There's a flying Hyundai in development, but you won't necessarily get to drive it.

Taylor Aerocar Recent Auctions

Taylor Aerocar Quick Facts 

First year of production: 1949

Last year of production: 1968

Total sold: 6 (including air-only Aerocar II)

Original price: $15,000

Last auction price: $275,000

Engine: Lycoming O-320, 143 hp

Top speed, road: 67 mph

Top speed, air: 100 mph

Fuel consumption, road: 15 mpg

Fuel consumption, air: 8 gph

Taylor Aerocar FAQ

How much did the Taylor Aerocar flying car cost?

Moulton Taylor reportedly sold his prototype Aerocars for $15,000, though his intended selling price was $8,500. By 1971, his projected price for the Aerocar III was $10,000.

Do Aerocar flying cars exist today?

All five of the Aerocar International flying cars are still in existence, though how many are in airworthy condition is unknown. One Aerocar was rebuilt by creator Moulton Taylor as the Aerocar III.

Can you buy an Aerocar flying car?

One Aerocar is for sale, but its $2.2 million asking price is quite a bit higher than the most recent auction price of $275,000.