Vehicles take many strange forms; sometimes demonstrating Louis Sullivan’s axiom that “form follows function” and sometimes not so much. Vehicles and especially automobiles have long held a special place in our culture. Vehicles exist in a dizzying array of shapes and sizes and fill countless roles from taxis and tanks to hover crafts and helicopters. They have repeatedly revolutionized the world since the war chariot first appeared around 1700BC. Vehicles will continue to be an exciting source of innovation with the proliferation of new technologies like drones and commercial space ships.
15. Hovering Over Me
A Hovercraft, also known as air cushion vehicles, seem like vehicles inspired by Luke Skywalker’s land speeder. However, a British engineer designed the first one in the 1950’s. Hovercraft actually float on a cushion of air formed by nozzles blowing air under the vehicle causing a difference in air pressure. This unique feature allows hovercraft to carry passengers and cargo over land and water. They are most often used as ferries to transport people across waterways and as amphibious military land craft. There is also a growing recreational hovercraft market with small designs similar to snowmobiles and ATVs.
14. Swimming Cars
There is nothing quite like lounging on a sunny afternoon as your boat drifts among the waves. The only thing that could make it better is a boat that’s also a car. Or is it a car that’s also a boat? Either way amphibious vehicles are marvelous pieces of machinery. They have been used mostly as transports to get soldiers and Marines to shore. The World War Two era DUKW, better known as the “Duck”, drove soldiers onto the Normandy beaches on D-Day, June 6th, 1944. The Ducks were later pressed into civilian service with the tourist industry.
13. Land Shark
The Thrust SSC or supersonic car holds the Guinness World Record for fastest speed on land at a blazing 760 miles per hour. It is also the first land vehicle to break the speed of sound. The Thrust owes its tremendous speed to a pair of Rolls Royce jet engines that produce 50,000 lb of thrust and make it look more like one of Flash Gordon’s rocket ships than a car. A British aeronautical engineer named Ron Ayers designed the amazing vehicle. He spent his career designing weapons like bomber aircraft and missiles. After he retired he started researching land speed record cars. His theories about why the cars often failed to live up to expectations inspired him to design a car with a aerodynamic shape that would reach the desired speed.
12. Happy Camper
The Colim Caravan is a futuristic camper that looks more like a home appliance than an RV. This exotic vehicle was designed by the German designer Christian Susana. Colim stands for “Colors of Life in Motion” and reflects the vehicle’s label “as a lifestyle motorhome” with its clever modular construction that uses the limited space more efficiently than some conventional camper designs. The trailer can conveniently be detached from the cab and left behind at the campsite leaving the driver free to use the cab for short trips. Although the Colim Caravan is considered a radical design, it has many good features that RV designers will likely emulate in the future.
11. Mighty Micro
The micro jet first gained notoriety in 1983 when one was featured in the opening segment of the James Bond movie Octopussy. Although it may look like a fake aircraft it is a real vehicle with surprisingly impressive specifications. The jet boasts a top speed of over 320 mph and a quantum turbine engine that provides 265 lb of thrust. Its diminutive dimensions and acrobatic maneuverability have made it an airshow favorite for decades. Sorry thrill seekers, there is only room for the pilot and only barely. So, if you want to experience the thrill of slicing through the clouds in a micro jet you’ll have to learn to fly.
10. Moon Rover
NASA has plans to return to the moon around year 2020. This may be a little optimistic since American astronauts have to hitch a ride up to the International Space Station. Nevertheless a new electric powered moon rover is undergoing a grueling test program to make sure it can survive the rigors of lunar life. The Apollo program era rover was little more than a platform with four wheels and a steering wheel. The new rover is comparatively spacious and luxurious with room for a pair of astronauts to live for up to two weeks. This means they will be able to travel longer distances and explore the moon’s surface for several days at a time.
9. Funny How?
Many little boys grow up with a love of loud, screeching race cars. The power, noise and glamour can be mesmerizing. NASCAR and Formula 1 racing have large followings, but if you want to see and hear some of the most incredible racing cars anywhere then check out the Funny Car drag racing circuit. Funny Cars inhabit a specific class of professional drag racing. The main difference between funny cars and other drag racers is that Funny Car engines are in front of the driver while other drag racers have the engine behind the driver. You’ll also notice that Funny Cars have a wide variety of showy body styles such as muscle cars and even trucks.
8. Weekend Escape Pod
You just want to get away for the weekend, but you want to leave the minivan at home? Peugeot’s Capsule concept vehicle gives new meaning to the phrase traveling light. Alp Germaner, the Capsule’s designer, was inspired by the motorcycles he rode on weekend trips and he wanted to transfer the sense of freedom he felt to a more practical vehicle. The tiny compartment only has room for the driver, but there is room in the back for luggage. This is the era of connectivity so the Capsule features a satellite internet connection so you can stay in touch or find the nearest bed and breakfast. The Capsule runs on a solar-assisted gas-electric hybrid engine so using the internet to find a gas station probably won’t be necessary.
7. Lord Humungus
The Takraf Bagger 293 looks like a cross between an oil rig and the Jawas’ sand crawler. In fact it is a bucket wheel excavator, in other words an earth mover capable of moving 848 million cubic feet of earth every day. The Takraf is the Guinness World Record holder for largest land vehicle at 310 feet tall, 720 feet long and 31 million lb in weight. A dozen caterpillar tracks that are all taller than a grown man support the vehicles huge bulk and move it around. Because of its size and complexity it needs five people to operate it. This behemoth spends its days shoveling coal in open pits in Germany. However, it wouldn’t take much to imagine it lumbering across an alien landscape menacing everything in its path or something you would find in a Mad Max movie.
6. Drone on and on
The RQ-180 stealth surveillance drone is one of the Pentagon’s most advanced aircraft with its creation still not officially publicly acknowledged. Its predecessor, The RQ-170 Sentinel, gained infamy when one crashed in Iran in December 2011. This new model is reported to be faster, stealthier and able to loiter over a target for much longer. These drones have replaced sexier manned aircraft like the retired SR-71 Blackbird. The RQ-180 can loiter in skies over most nations without being detected then use its sophisticated sensors to monitor and track targets. Much of the drone’s capabilities are still top secret, and there is some debate in the aviation community whether it carries missiles in addition to its sensors.
5. Rocket Man
Although many people refer to these contraptions as jet packs they are really powered by a rocket engine that unlike a jet, does not need a flow of oxygen for combustion. Bell Aerosystems built a rocket pack or rocket belt for the U.S. Army in the 1950’s. However, at about four seconds of flight time per gallon of hydrogen peroxide fuel, they could not make it into a practical vehicle. A jet pack did make a brief appearance in the 1965 James Bond movie Thunderball. They also are featured at air shows and other events, but sadly have yet to replace our cars.
4. Secret Space Plane
The X-37B returned from space after a record-shattering 718 days in orbit. The spacecraft, that looks a lot like a scaled down version of the retired space shuttles, is officially described as a remote controlled test bed for emerging technologies. However, there are internet discussions that claim the X-37B is actually a prototype for a reusable space transport. As the theory goes: it would take off from an air base in the U.S. loaded with weapons or a commando team, achieve low earth orbit and then a few hours later land at any spot on the planet to confront America’s enemies.
3. Flying Underwater
The deep oceans of the world are still under explored, but perhaps not for long. The DeepFlight Super Falcon lets tourists and other enthusiasts explore under the waves without cumbersome oxygen tanks, fins and masks. California based Hawkes Ocean Technologies designs and builds the two seat Super Falcon submersibles. The basic design is 21 feet long and can submerge to 400 feet below the surface. With a fuselage and wings it moves smoothly through the water much like a plane flies through the air. The dome style windows let sightseers view marine life up close and of course take some stunning photographs to post on social media.
Some people may quibble about the Mystery Machine occupying such a prominent place on this list, but let’s get real: what’s cooler than Fred’s tricked out hippie mobile? Not much if you were lucky enough to watch zany episodes of “Scooby Doo Where Are You!” growing up. Even if you weren’t, surely you’re familiar with the iconic Mystery Machine’s Robin egg blue and lime green color scheme. This real life version of the gang’s ride is a 1965 Ford Econoline. This ride is like perfect for tracking down pesky ghosts or just driving to the malt shop for some hamburgers.
1. Meet the Flying Car
The Jetsons promised us flying cars and finally they just might be around the corner. The P-VAL is a hybrid vehicle that has a driving configuration and a flying configuration. For between $399,000 and $599,000 depending on what options you choose, you can leave the rush hour gridlock behind. But first you’ll need to complete 20 hours of observed flying time to get the necessary license. You’ll also need to find a runway near work, because the FAA won’t let you take off from the street. This vehicle is pretty cramped and only has room for the driver/pilot and space for little bit of luggage. But if you can get past the price tag and the size, you can soar up in the wild blue yonder with this vehicle.