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9 Absurd Transportation Modes that Never Got into Gear

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by Kenn McCracken

1. The Monowheel

In 1869, French craftsman Rousseau of Marseilles built the first in history's line of unsuccessful monocycles. Sitting inside the monowheel, a rider steered the contraption by shifting his or her weight in the desired direction. As if that wasn't difficult enough, the massive outer wheel remained directly in the rider's line of sight at all times. Braking was also potentially hazardous, as stopping too abruptly would cause the rider to be propelled forward along with the outer wheel. But perhaps the biggest strike against the monowheel was the immediate comparison of any rider to a gerbil—something even the French wouldn't tolerate.

2. The Daihatsu Trek

daihatsu_trek.jpgIt's a car! It's a bed! It looks suspiciously like a child's toy! For the outdoorsman who has everything except a really expensive Big Wheel, there was the Daihatsu Trek. A single-passenger off-road vehicle, the Trek not only allowed drivers to travel to remote areas, it also gave them a place to bed down for the evening. With its collapsible seat, steering wheel, and roll bar, the boxy monstrosity from 1990 offered all the comforts of a really cheap motel room. And while we can't be sure why the car never made it past the concept stage at Daihatsu, we can only guess members of the off-road focus groups felt silly driving a Transformer.

3. The Avrocar

Much more after the jump.

avrocar01.jpg A quasi hot potato of international engineering, the Avrocar was initially funded by the Canadian government, designed by a British engineer, and eventually assumed by the U.S. Defense Department as part of the Cold War weapons race. The UFO-like contraption was 18 feet in diameter, but only 3 feet thick. It featured vertical takeoff and landing and was designed to reach speeds up to 300 mph while remaining elusive to radar. Unfortunately, the two-person craft was never able to stabilize at heights above 8 feet, nor travel faster than 35 mph. After eight years and more than $10 million, the project was abandoned in 1960.

4. The Dymaxion

dymaxion-car.jpgBuckminster Fuller was many things—inventor, philosopher, Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and bearer of a name that makes Frank Zappa's kids feel average. Among his many architectural and engineering creations, Bucky tried his hand at automobiles. In 1933, using a V-8 engine loaned to him by Henry Ford, Fuller built the Dymaxion car. Truly a wonder to behold, the Dymaxion was nearly 20 feet long, got 30-plus miles to the gallon, held up to 12 people, had a maximum speed of 120 mph, and could do a U-turn in 20 feet, thanks to a single rear wheel that controlled the steering. Unfortunately, the car's steering appears to be at fault for a fatal accident at the 1933 World's Fair, when the Dymaxion was rubbernecked by another car. Although later evidence placed fault on the driver of the other car, negative publicity surrounding the wreck caused investors to pull away from the project, and Fuller was freed up to build geodesic domes and work on his friendship with John Denver. The fortunate outcome of the Dymaxion's failure? Denver's hit tune, "What One Man Can Do," which was written for Fuller.

5. Da Vinci's Clockwork Car

Picture 1.pngLeonardo da Vinci is renowned for his forward-thinking sketches and intricate designs, which included blueprints for a bicycle, a submarine, and a helicopter. But you can't win 'em all. Da Vinci also designed a three-wheeled wagon-like device—often referred to as the clockwork car—that never really lived up to the hype. Its spring-operated design makes it the first-known concept for a self-propelled vehicle. And because it was designed without a driver's seat (though a secondary steering column was present) and was meant to be programmed along a specific course, the clockwork car is also thought to be one of the world's first robots. Some speculate that faulty interpretations of da Vinci's notes prevented the success of his ideas, but there's plenty of evidence to the contrary. When engineers finally constructed a working model of the car in the late 1990s, it only traveled 40 feet.

6. The KAZ

1kaz.jpgOriginally designed in 2001 to push the limits of electric automotive technology, the KAZ (Keio Advanced Zero-emission) vehicle is part science-fiction, part sports car, part limousine, and entirely unattractive. But the beauty of the KAZ lies in its eight wheels, each powered by its own battery, which allow the luxury concept car to reach speeds in excess of 190 mph without emitting any pollution. The car's design also makes for a safe ride because what would normally be the engine compartment is a crushable zone, reducing risk to the driver. Sadly, the KAZ came off as less luxury automobile and more cartoon, sending the designers back to their drawing boards.

7. The Bell Rocket Belt

Picture 2.pngEveryone who grew up watching "The Jetsons" and playing with the Steve Austin action figure dreamed of a day when people travelled to and from work via jet pack. The tease: a rocket belt developed under military contract by Bell Aerosystems in 1959. The hydrogen peroxide-powered Small Rocket Lift Device (SRLD), also known as the Bell Rocket Belt, was flown successfully throughout the 1960s. Unfortunately, the contract was later dropped, due largely to its limited flight duration (it held only 21.5 seconds worth of fuel). Although the belts are still used occasionally for entertainment (the opening of the 1984 Olympics and, most memorably, in the film "Thunderball"), our adolescent dreams of rocket-powered backpack flight will be confined to the silver screen and the funny pages for a while longer.

8. The Amfibidiver

Amfibidiver-front.jpgIf you've been looking to practice your spy skills, this is your toy. The Amfibidiver is a car that's also a boat that's also a submarine. All you have to do is find a way to fit your tuxedo underneath your scuba suit. Of designing the 007-mobile, Belgian inventor René Baldewijns says it was easy. "Just take one dream, the fuel tank of an airplane, two bicycles, the motors from five electric wheelchairs, the hull of a sailing boat, seven drink containers (a real justification for that empty bottle collection), several kilos of resin, a few garden seats, and several miles of electrical cables." Voilà! You've got an Amfibidiver! Baldewijns built a prototype for the machine, but his health problems caused the project to be shelved before it found commercial realization.

9. The Superbus

luxurious_superbus_concept.jpg

In 1988, Czech-born architect Jan Kaplicky attempted a feat that flew in the face of all odds: bringing change to Britain. The Superbus was a sleek, aluminum-bodied craft that charged itself at bus terminals and had the ability to lower its frame at stops to make it easier for passengers to enter and exit. The design was rejected in favor of the traditional red, double-decker Routemaster buses long associated with London's public transportation system. Was the Superbus truly hideous, or was it just one step closer to the 20th century and a decent dental plan? We may never know.

This list was pulled from an issue of mental_floss magazine. Make our editors happy and subscribe here today!

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Big Questions
How Does Autopilot Work on an Airplane?
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How does autopilot work on an airplane?

Joe Shelton:

David Micklewhyte’s answer is a good one. There are essentially a few types of features that different autopilots have. Some autopilots only have some of these features, while the more powerful autopilots do it all.

  • Heading Hold: There’s a small indicator that the pilot can set on the desired heading and the airplane will fly that heading. This feature doesn’t take the need for wind correction to desired routing into account; that’s left to the pilot.
  • Heading and Navigation: In addition to holding a heading, this version will take an electronic navigation input (e.g. GPS or VOR) and will follow (fly) that navigation reference. It’s sort of like an automated car in that it follows the navigator’s input and the pilot monitors.
  • Altitude Hold: Again, in addition to the above, a desired altitude can be set and the aircraft will fly at that altitude. Some autopilots have the capability for the pilot to select a desired altitude and a climb or descent rate and the aircraft will automatically climb or descend to that altitude and then hold the altitude.
  • Instrument Approaches: Autopilots with this capability will fly preprogrammed instrument approaches to the point where the pilot either takes control and lands or has the autopilot execute a missed approach.

The autopilot is a powerful computer that takes input from either the pilot or a navigation device and essentially does what it is told to do. GPS navigators, for example, can have a full flight plan entered from departure to destination, and the autopilot will follow the navigator’s guidance.

These are the majority of the controls on the autopilot installed in my airplane:

HDG Knob = Heading knob (Used to set the desired heading)

AP = Autopilot (Pressing this turns the autopilot on)

FD = Flight Director (A form of navigational display that the pilot uses)

HDG = Heading (Tells the autopilot to fly the heading set by the Heading Knob)

NAV = Tells the autopilot to follow the input from the selected navigator

APR = Tells the autopilot to fly the chosen approach

ALT = Tells the autopilot to manage the altitude, controlled by the following:

VS = Vertical Speed (Tells the autopilot to climb or descend at the chosen rate)

Nose UP / Nose DN = Sets the climb/descent rate in feet per minute

FLC = Flight Level Change (An easy manual way to set the autopilot)

ALT Knob = Used to enter the desired altitude

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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History
15 Fascinating Facts About Amelia Earhart
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Amelia Earhart was a pioneer, a legend, and a mystery. To celebrate what would be her 120th birthday, we've uncovered 15 things you might not know about the groundbreaking aviator.

1. THE FIRST TIME SHE SAW AN AIRPLANE, SHE WASN'T IMPRESSED.

In Last Flight, a collection of diary entries published posthumously, Earhart recalled feeling unmoved by "a thing of rusty wire and wood" at the Iowa State Fair in 1908. It wasn't until years later that she discovered her passion for aviation, when she worked as a nurse's aide at Toronto's Spadina Military Hospital. She and some friends would spend time at hangars and flying fields, talking to pilots and watching aerial shows. Earhart didn't actually get on a plane herself until 1920, and even then she was just a passenger.

2. SHE WAS A GOOD STUDENT WITH NO PATIENCE FOR SCHOOL.

After working with the Voluntary Aid Detachment in Toronto, Earhart took pre-med classes at Columbia University in 1919. She made good grades, but dropped out after just a year. Earhart re-enrolled at Columbia in 1925 and left school again. She took summer classes at Harvard, but gave up on higher education for good after she didn't get a scholarship to MIT.

3. ANOTHER PIONEERING FEMALE AVIATOR TAUGHT EARHART HOW TO FLY.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Neta Snook was the first woman to run her own aviation business and commercial airfield. She gave Earhart flying lessons at Kinner Field near Long Beach, California in 1921, reportedly charging $1 in Liberty Bonds for every minute they spent in the air.

4. EARHART BOUGHT HER FIRST PLANE WITHIN SIX MONTHS OF HER FIRST FLYING LESSON.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

She named it The Canary. The used yellow Kinner Airster biplane was the second one ever built. Earhart paid $2000 for it, despite Snook's opinion that it was underpowered, overpriced, and too difficult for a beginner to land.

5. AMY EARHART ENCOURAGED HER DAUGHTER'S PASSION. HER FATHER, ON THE OTHER HAND, WAS AFRAID OF FLYING.

Earhart's mom used some of her inheritance to pay for The Canary. She was a bit of an adventurer herself: the first woman to ever climb Pikes Peak in Colorado.

6. EARHART HAD A LOT OF ODD JOBS.

In addition to volunteering as a nurse's aide, Earhart also worked early jobs as a telephone operator and tutor. Earhart was a social worker at Denison House in Boston when she was invited to fly across the Atlantic for the first time (as a passenger) in 1928. At the height of her career, Earhart spent time making speeches, writing articles, and providing career counseling at Purdue University's Department of Aeronautics. Oh, and flying around the world.

7. SHE WASN'T SURE ABOUT MARRIAGE, BUT SHE DEFINITELY BELIEVED IN PRE-NUPS.

When promoter George Putnam contacted Earhart about flying across the Atlantic Ocean in 1928, it was her first big break ... and the beginning of their love story. The two began a working relationship, which soon turned into attraction. When Putnam's marriage to Dorothy Binney fell apart, he eventually proposed to Earhart. She said yes, albeit reluctantly.

Earhart wasn't worried about safeguarding financial assets so much as she wanted the two of them to maintain separate identities. Earhart asked Putnam to agree to a trial marriage. If they weren't happy after a year, they'd be free to go their separate ways, no hard feelings. He agreed. They lived happily until her disappearance.

8. SHE WROTE ABOUT FLYING FOR COSMOPOLITAN.

In 1928, Earhart was appointed Cosmopolitan's Aviation Editor. Her 16 published articles—among them "Shall You Let Your Daughter Fly?" and "Why Are Women Afraid to Fly?"—recounted her adventures and encouraged other women to fly, even if they just did so commercially. (Commercial flights date back to 1914, but they wouldn't really take off until after World War II.)

9. FIRST LADY ELEANOR ROOSEVELT WAS SO INSPIRED BY EARHART THAT SHE SIGNED UP FOR FLYING LESSONS.

The two became friends in 1932. Roosevelt got a student permit and a physical examination, but never followed through with her plan.

10. EARHART WAS THE FIRST WOMAN TO GET A PILOT'S LICENSE FROM THE NATIONAL AERONAUTIC ASSOCIATION (NAA).

That was in 1923, when pilots and aircrafts weren't legally required to be licensed. Earhart was the sixteenth woman to get licensed by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), which was required to set flight records. Still, the FAI didn't maintain women's records until 1928.

11. SHE ACCOMPLISHED A LOT OF "FIRSTS."

Earhart eventually became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic as a passenger (1928) and then solo (1932) and nonstop from coast to coast (1932) as a pilot. She also set records, period: Earhart was the first person to ever fly solo from Honolulu to Oakland, Los Angeles to Mexico City, and Mexico City to Newark, all in 1935.

What do John Glenn, George H.W. Bush, and Amelia Earhart have in common? They all earned an Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross. But only Earhart was the first woman—and one of few civilians—to do so.

12. SHE WAS ONE OF THE FIRST CELEBRITIES TO LAUNCH A CLOTHING LINE.

Amelia Earhart Fashions were affordable separates sold exclusively at Macy's and Marshall Field's. The line's dresses, blouses, pants, suits, and hats were made of cotton and parachute silk and featured aviation-inspired details, like propeller-shaped buttons. Earhart studied sewing as a girl and actually made her own samples.

13. THE U.S. GOVERNMENT SPENT $4 MILLION SEARCH FOR EARHART.

At the time, it was the most expensive air and sea search in history. Earhart's plane disappeared July 2, 1937. The official search ended a little over two weeks later on July 19. Putnam then financed a private search, chartering boats to the Phoenix Islands, Christmas Island, Fanning Island, the Gilbert Islands, and the Marshall Islands.

14. THE SEARCH ISN'T OVER.

There are several theories about what happened to Earhart's plane during her last flight. Most people believe she ran out of fuel and crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Others believe she landed on an island and died of thirst, starvation, injury, or at the hands of Japanese soldiers in Saipan. In 1970, one man even claimed that Earhart was alive and well and living a secret life in New Jersey.

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) has explored the theory that Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan lived as castaways before dying on Gardner Island, now called Nikumaroro, in the western Pacific. Over the years, they've found a few potential artifacts, including evidence of campfire sites, pieces of Plexiglas, and an empty jar of the brand of freckle cream that Earhart used.

In early July 2017, a photo surfaced that seemed to confirm the theory that Earhart and Noonan crashed and were captured by Japanese soldiers, but that photo was quickly debunked.

15. TODAY, ANOTHER AMELIA EARHART IS MAKING HISTORY.

In 2014, another pilot named Amelia Earhart took to the skies to set a world record. The then-31-year-old California native became the youngest woman to fly 24,300 miles around the world in a single-engine plane. Her namesake never completed the journey, but the younger Earhart landed safely in Oakland on July 11, 2014. We think "Lady Lindy" would be proud.

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