Who killed the flying car?

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Dear Ace: 2010 is here. Where is my flying car?—Future-Schmuck-in-Charlottesville

Robert Zemeckis’ 1989 film Back to the Future II doesn’t show the flying car in common use until 2015, so you’ve still got five years to go before you can officially start feeling disappointed in the future. See, flying cars have actually been around for a long time—since 1937, in fact, when inventor Waldo Waterman rolled out the Waterman Aerobile, followed by the Fulton Airphibian in 1946 and the Taylor Aerocar in 1949. Thankfully, they gather dust in aviation museums. Look, if there were actually a flying car in every garage…well, maybe we wouldn’t need roads in that kind of society, but you know what we would need? Hospitals.

You don’t want a flying car. A flying car wouldn’t make you happy. The flying car is just a metaphor for a glorious future that never comes, like Gatsby’s green light, or the Star Wars sequel trilogy. Sure, we’re shin-deep in the 21st century now, and it would seem like we’d be justified in announcing the future’s arrival—if not for forecasters like Arthur C. Clarke getting our hopes up with predictions that we’d be launching manned missions to Jupiter by now. Inevitably, we feel let down. And in the midst of a generation-rare recession, why shouldn’t we? Ace may have been overoptimistic about the prospect of having a harem of android lovers by 2010, but he was hoping at least that he’d be off food stamps by now.

Still, proponents of a brighter future can point to a few nifty things the past decade of science has given us. For example: bioluminescent mice. Other technological accomplishments on schedule for 2010 include the completion of the Burj Dubai, which already stands higher than any other manmade structure, and NASA’s Project Constellation, which will replace the Space Shuttle with new rocket technology that will take humans back to the moon, and ultimately, to Mars. And on that fine morning, when we plant an American—or a Chinese—flag on Martian soil, you’ll have to admit that humanity has come a long way.

Until then, we zoom on, flying cars against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

You can ask Ace yourself. Intrepid investigative reporter Ace Atkins has been chasing readers’ leads for 21 years. If you have a question for Ace, e-mail it to ace@c-ville.com.

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