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We've seen flying cars recently in Harry Potter (flying bikes there too), Back to the Future (and a flying train) and going back to Chitty Bang-Bang.

I'm wondering what the earliest instance of a flying car (being a motor powered vehicle, rather than a cart (or chariot) with flying horses, so Apollo and Greek mythology don't count) in either book or film.

  • 1
    Kind of related: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/73070/… – Molag Bal Apr 27 '16 at 9:46
  • @anaranjada kind of related, and very informative. Thank you. I did miss that completely when searching. Will be interesting to see if Chitty was the first flying car. Thanks – gabe3886 Apr 27 '16 at 9:54
  • This is what I was looking for earlier: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/93537/… Not the same question, but related. – Molag Bal Apr 27 '16 at 9:55
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    @Zibbobz Yes, I am looking for a motor powered example, I mention being motor powered in the question. It doesn't need to be a petroleum motor, I would accept steam powered cars if they were thought of for flying first, or electric. Just something which is car-like as we would envisage today, but with the ability to fly – gabe3886 Apr 27 '16 at 16:19
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    This Aerial steam carriage was patented in 1842, but never flew. Not sure if that counts as science fiction or not? More steam aircraft. – Digital Trauma Apr 27 '16 at 22:48
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The french painter Albert Robida drew many pictures of the future (from the perspective of about 1900). Some of them had mechanical flying cars.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/2a/Sortie_de_l%27op%C3%A9ra_en_l%27an_2000-2.jpg/2560px-Sortie_de_l%27op%C3%A9ra_en_l%27an_2000-2.jpg

There is a good article about him on mashable

However these seem to be flying machines that are used in similar ways to cars are now, rather than a normal car that flies. I am not quite sure which your question is asking about.

  • Good answer and actually makes me wonder about the question itself. Is a world where flying transport used in the way we think about and use cars the same as being flying cars. I'll ponder that and see if I can refine the scope of the question if needed. – gabe3886 Apr 27 '16 at 11:03
  • Obviously if you are thinking of normal cars that fly, you are going to have to have something that was conceived after the advent (and popularization of motor cars) – Jeremy French Apr 27 '16 at 11:25
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    Odd that these designs all seem to be made to look like fish, rather than the far more obvious choice of making them look like birds... – Darrel Hoffman Apr 27 '16 at 20:02
  • In 1900, airfoils were a relatively new invention. These vessels strike me as dirigible's cabins, without the need for the dirigible. If you have a magically lifting handwave, you don't need wings; just propulsion. I don't think these are cars; they just float. But is it a self-propelled flying vessel? Sure. – Mazura Apr 28 '16 at 2:16
9

The Vimanas of the ancient Sanskrit epics and Hindu texts are flying cars.

They are distinct from the horse drawn Vedas

They are described in the Ramayana which the earliest complete version can be dated to the 11th century CE (though fragments are dated as early as 6th century CE).

From the Ramayana:

"The Pushpaka Vimana that resembles the Sun and belongs to my brother was brought by the powerful Ravana; that aerial and excellent Vimana going everywhere at will ... that chariot resembling a bright cloud in the sky ... and the King [Rama] got in, and the excellent chariot at the command of the Raghira, rose up into the higher atmosphere.'"

From Wikipedia:

It is the first flying vimana mentioned in existing Hindu mythology texts (as distinct from the gods' flying horse-drawn chariots).

There has, of course, been much speculation about their meaning. I admit this answer is a bit out of the box and doesn't demand a mechanically motorized car. But it certainly is the oldest possible description I know of.

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    'Vimāna is a mythological flying palace or chariot', doesn't meet the requirement of being a 'motor powered vehicle rather than a cart (or chariot)'. Whilst they aren't drawn by horse, I'm not sure they qualify as motor powered. Interesting answer though – gabe3886 Apr 27 '16 at 10:29
  • @gabe3886 Problem is, asking a "earliest instance" question means that eventually time works against you, making things more unclear through age (what else would they call it but a chariot?) and through translation issues (whether it was a palace or chariot). I quoted the earliest instance but it's probably not the best example of the Vimanas. You will probably have to limit your answers to since the advent of what you are envisioning as a "car" in order to be sure any quote is referring to the same thing. – Joshua Apr 27 '16 at 10:44
  • The question does describe a "car" as needing to be "motor powered". I agree that language and translations through time can make it a bit unclear, but as the Vimana don't appear to have a power source, are they motor powered or semi-sentient and a kind of living entity? (I'd need to read further into it) – gabe3886 Apr 27 '16 at 10:48
  • @gabe3886 well some people think they are powered. It's just a matter of interpretation. Like I said, I'm used to it this was just the earliest possible solution. :) – Joshua Apr 27 '16 at 11:26
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    @Lilienthal That feels like it is veering towards Clarke's Third Law. There are plenty of examples of soft sci-fi where the "how" of some technology is handwaved away. It just happens to be that for the time period in which this was written, they used divine powers and magic instead of unobtainium. If the Vimanas really were chariots, then you would have the period-equivalent of a powered vehicle which is able to fly and appears to be unpowered – D.Spetz Apr 27 '16 at 17:09

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