Blade Runner

Blade Runner & Flying Cars: Did They Get Anything Right?

Blade Runner cover
Release Date
June 25, 1982
Director
Ridley Scott
Length
1h 57m
Where to Watch

Blade Runner was released in 1982 and landed with a thud. It went nowhere at the box office, and only later picked up steam and a cult following when it was released on VHS. Set in a dystopian, grimy, crowded Los Angeles of 2019. Blade Runner showed us a future of environmental devastation and the slow, inexorable grinding down of humanity, one person at a time, in pursuit of the all-mighty dollar.

Like all great works of art, it raises some essential questions of what makes us human; how does a person maintain their humanity; why do we live and what is the point of this life; and is it okay to fall in love with a robot you’ve been having sex with?

Flying Cars & Blade Runner 

Of Blade Runner’s many predictions – genetic engineering, super-scale architecture, and holographic manipulation to name only three – the one we are concerned with here at Automoblog is, of course, flying cars. And, as with most things flying car related, I give this an F grade for its accuracy in terms of a technology prediction. But . . . there’s some interesting caveats that go along with how they handled flying cars in the world of Blade Runner that make the entire idea potentially much more workable.

For starters, the flying cars, called “spinners,” were designed by the great Syd Mead, visual futurist, industrial designer, automotive designer, and all-around interesting human. He called his flying car an “aerodyne” that worked via an unseen propulsion system. Whatever was contained within the beetle-back of the spinner had enough power to both levitate and motivate it. How was never specified, but that was the basic idea. Director Ridley Scott was bright enough to hire just the right guy to work on his flying car concept.

Rick Deckard's spinner from Blade Runner.
Rick Deckard’s decommissioned spinner from Blade Runner. The vehicle is based on a 1972 VW Super Beetle. Photo: Kahn Media.

Who Would Be Able To Use Flying Cars?

The other thing Blade Runner got right was who was using them. As far as I can tell (and I’ve seen this movie dozens and dozens of times), there are only two kinds of flying cars in the film. There are spinners that are flying police cars, and there was another model that looked like a private vehicle. The implication here is only the cops or wealthy elite get flying cars.

This greatly simplifies potential problems like overcrowded skies, accreditation of who gets to fly, and things of that nature. If there are only two kinds of people flying around our pollution-choked and congested cities – law enforcement and the rich – then there is an implication of a higher level of responsible use. In theory.

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It’s also worth noting the amount of computer control and monitoring seen in the aerial use of a spinner. That would go a long way to mitigating a large number of problems.

Rick Deckard's spinner from Blade Runner.
Inside Deckard’s spinner from Blade Runner. Photo: Kahn Media.

Are The Flying Cars In Blade Runner Plausible?

Even though I gave the flying spinners in Blade Runner an F grade in terms of plausible technology, it is with those caveats. If there is a way to make flying cars work, we can’t just give them out will-nilly to any swell that desires one. We’d scrap the whole program within months due to fatal, smoking crashes and the inevitable lawsuits. 

To put it another way, practically-speaking, I don’t see flying cars ever coming true. Police don’t need them, they’ve already got helicopters, and the same goes for the filthy rich with private planes. Sure, there are the half-loony innovators and ambitious companies out there still trying to make flying cars happen, but the landscape looks as bleak as the dust-choked desert consuming Las Vegas in the rather well-done follow-up, Blade Runner 2049. (Harrison Ford reprises his role). 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get down to Taffey Lewis’ place. I’ve got him on a line for drinks and I think I’ve got Sean Young’s number here somewhere.

Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He is the author of Bricks & Bones: The Endearing Legacy and Nitty-Gritty Phenomenon of The Indy 500, available in paperback or Kindle format. Follow his work on Twitter: @TonyBorroz

Deckard’s Spinner From Blade Runner Gallery



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  1. In reality mass production mechanisms and the reliability we expect from cars today is a welcome evolution in the aviation world where low volume ultra expensive crapware is the norm. Due to its low volume and ultra rigid regulations.
    As a pilot I’ve never seen a vacuum pump last more than a few hundred hours. Avionics fail regularly. Gaskets leak. Oil filters are up to standards from another century and the oil used is the same as in the 1960s. And engines require a TBO after 2000 hrs.
    Pathetic considering your average 20 year old truck’s engine, badly maintained with irregular oil changes at best, has seen 10,000 hrs + and still has life for another 10k in the wings.
    Heard of carburated engined in today’s cars? or them leaking a quart of oil every few hours? those are normal things for planes relying on expensive lawn mower technology.
    Mike Busch, a mechanic guru in the aviation world, correctly places the divergence between cars and planes in the 1960s where the NTHSA and the FAA went separate ways in the regulations. One relaxed them to the max and the other piled up an ever increasing set of standards resulting in a gaveyard spiral, pilot’s insider joke here, of ever increasing prices, lower volume, fixed in stone products.
    For cars the product became cheaper (vs. inflation), faster, better and more reliable.
    Merging the 2 will bring some of the automotive world’s ultra high reliability and cheapness to aviation.
    Drones have shown there is no magic and anyone can fly a large aircraft for really really cheap.
    Therein lies the true value of creating a plane-car hybrid.
    Not to mention I still want to drive somewhere after I land and it’s a real pain to either rely on Uber, some clown foldable bicycle, or the crew car of dubious cleanliness and lately limited availability thanks to the pandemic.

  2. “And, as with most things flying car related, I give this an F grade for its accuracy in terms of a technology prediction.”

    I give this article an F for it’s research.

    “called his flying car an “aerodyne” that worked via an unseen propulsion system. Whatever was contained within the beetle-back of the spinner had enough power to both levitate and motivate it. How was never specified, but that was the basic idea.”

    Syd has said that the Spinner uses the same system as a Harrier Jump Jet, which is laughable. Try landing on a city street with hurricane-force winds and deafening noise on a city street.

    “To put it another way, practically-speaking, I don’t see flying cars ever coming true. Police don’t need them, they’ve already got helicopters…”

    Yea, you can’t land a helicopter on a congested city street next to tall buildings. The police could certainly use them.

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