There is some uncertainty as to whether Trajan Vuia, a gentleman from Romania, was the first person to build a 'flying car'. A book published in 1994 by Professor Palmer Stiles of the Florida Institute of Technology was entitled "Roadable Aircraft - From Wheels to Wings" (Custom Creativity, Inc. Melbourne, Florida USA). In the 'Chronology' section of this book the first entry reads -
"1906 - Trajan Vuia tests flying auto near Paris, France".
There were a number of web sites that referred to the work of Trajan Vuia, although some have disappeared from the web since this report was published in 2003. Several appeared to be erroneous, claiming that Vuia was not successful in making a flight. Others give the date and time of the flight as well as the specifics of distance and height achieved. One site even claimed that "Romanians recognize Vuia as the first man to fly". However, the question posed here is this - was he intentionally building a vehicle that could be used as an automobile as well as an aircraft? At one time he did publish a paper dealing with "an aircraft -car", and that might infer that the machine he flew was built for those two purposes.
Dr Russell Naughton Ph.D. Research Associate (Hon) and Systems Engineer at the Department of Electronics and Communications of Monash University, Melbourne Australia doesn't think so. He writes -
"I think you are misreading the images as portraying a 'car' or 'carriage' even when in its earlier 'non-wing' configuration. It was common then to use a multiwheeled frame as the substructure for an aircraft because of the inherent stability of four equispaced wheels. The use of two wheels in front and a rear 'tail' wheel or 'skid' became more common just one or two years later, - eg Bleriot."
"The term Aerial Carriage was one of the early terms that described a passenger-carrying 'flying machine', not unlike the term 'Horseless Carriage'. The term 'car' cannot be seen in the same way we use it today, and the French for car, as we know it, is 'voiture'. I am totally sure the Vuia would have had no thought of it being a 'car with wings', simply an aircraft with a four wheeled undercarriage."
It is reported that the 'Vuia 1' was completed in December of 1905 and the inventor set out to test his machine. He found a plain called Montesson, near Paris, where he would not be disturbed by spectators. For his first trials he used only the subframe of his vehicle without mounting the wings.
After he became comfortable operating this portion of the vehicle, Vuia added the wings. He decided to make his first flying attempt on March 18, 1906 . At three o'clock in the afternoon he started the engine and let it warm up for about five minutes. He accelerated for about 50 meters. 'Vuia 1' then left the ground and flew to a height of about three feet. After a flight of about 40 feet across the ground, 'Vuia 1' landed safely.
Obviously, we would not consider the four-wheeled subframe an automobile by today's standards, but is it correct to say that Mr. Vuai had built for himself a flying car according to the standards of his time? At least, could it be called a flying horseless carriage?
In those early days there were no restrictions on the construction of automobiles as there are today, but even for 1906 a propeller driven motor car seems a pretty unlikely design. Perhaps, as Dr. Naughton maintains, it was not a flying car at all and the meaning of the words used to describe that vehicle became lost in the translation.
For more information on this machine visit the following website.
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