Up, Up, and Away! The U.S. Army's 1950s Hoverboard Prototype

More

For any child of the '80s, this archival footage of the U.S. Army's "flying platform" technology from the mid-'50s immediately calls to mind the hoverboard from Back to the Future: Part II. A levitating surface that could be controlled like a surfboard? Awesome! That exact idea was behind the flying platform, developed by Hiller Helicopters for the U.S. Army, demonstrated in the clip below. The Hiller Aviation Museum explains that the project grew out of work by Charles H. Zimmerman, an aeronautical engineer, who "theorized a person's natural balancing reflexes would suffice in controlling a small flying machine ... similar to riding a bicycle or balancing a surfboard." 

The segment above in an excerpt from The Big Picture, a TV series produced by the Department of Defense in the '50s and '60s. Courtesy of the Internet Archive, this episode, "Fifty Years of Aviation History," begins in 1907 and ends with speculation about the future of military aviation. The Hiller Aviation Museum has remarkable photographs and diagrams from the 1956 patent application, below, and you can find more here.  

A newsreel from British Pathé includes more archival footage of the invention as well: 

For more films from the Internet Archive, visit http://www.archive.org/.

Via Devour and Laughing Squid.

Jump to comments

Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

The Ghost Trains of America

Can a band of locomotive experts save vintage railcars from ruin?


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Video

What If Emoji Lived Among Us?

A whimsical ad imagines what life would be like if emoji were real.

Video

Living Alone on a Sailboat

"If you think I'm a dirtbag, then you don't understand the lifestyle."

Video

How Is Social Media Changing Journalism?

How new platforms are transforming radio, TV, print, and digital

Video

The Place Where Silent Movies Sing

How an antique, wind-powered pipe organ brings films to life

Feature

The Future of Iced Coffee

Are artisan businesses like Blue Bottle doomed to fail when they go mainstream?

Writers

Up
Down

More in Video

Just In