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

By Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg

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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/05/up-up-and-away-the-us-armys-1950s-hoverboard-prototype/257358/