The flying car has been prophesied for decades. It's one of the holy grails of the futuristic, utopian society, where everyone gets to zip around through the air and land easily, quietly and safely wherever he or she wants.
You've probably seen videos of flying-car prototypes, taking off from the ground, hovering and possibly crashing. But the first "autoplane" was actually unveiled in 1917, and many similar efforts have followed. Henry Ford predicted the flying car was coming -- in 1940 -- and there have been numerous false alarms ever since.
A decade into the 21st century, we don't seem to be any closer, despite what you might read on gadget blogs. Because funding dried up, NASA abandoned its contest for inventors to create a "Personal Air Vehicle," and there doesn't seem to be another government agency, except perhaps the secretive DARPA, ready to take on the project.
There are simply too many challenges in the way of a flying car becoming widely adopted. Cost, flight paths and regulations, safety, potential use in terrorism, fuel efficiency, training pilots/drivers, landing, noise, opposition from the automobile and transportation industries -- all stand in the way of a legitimate flying car. Also, these vehicles will likely have to be able to operate as cars on regular roads, posing another logistical challenge.
In fact, many of the so-called flying cars that are being hawked as the real thing are simply roadable aircrafts -- a sort of plane/car hybrid that is not capable of, say, making a short trip to school to drop off the kids. Plus, they're far too expensive. One such vehicle, the Terrafugia Transition, set for a release in 2011 or later, is expected to cost $200,000.