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Author Topic: Why Flying Tow Trucks Never Took Off  (Read 278 times)


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Why Flying Tow Trucks Never Took Off
« on: January 17, 2021, 01:01:45 PM »

Any Roadgeek should be familiar with Disney's 1958 film Magic Highways. Most of it is just a run-of-the-mill documentary about highway planning and construction, but the last 9 minutes, depicting various predictions for the highways of tomorrow, have become memorable for how they encapsulate mid-century futurism, the type that was mocked on The Jetsons

One thing they show are "airborne emergency units" capable of quickly arriving at the scene of an accident, and acting as fire engine, ambulance, and tow truck (start at 1:31).

9 years later, Sikorsky decided to try and make the idea a reality. On January 28, 1967, on a section of the Long Island Expressway that was still under construction, they set up a simulated accident and then had one of their choppers put the cars in harnesses and then lift them away.

The sight was pretty impressive.

But New York City Traffic Commissioner Henry Barnes came away unimpressed for a variety of reasons:
-The biggest problem, by far, was cost. For the price of one helicopter, they could purchase over 100 tow trucks and said helicopters would require $1,000 maintenance for just a few hours use, while a truck would require no maintenance for 10 years
-The downdraft was enormous, it blew him 200 feet down the road and almost did the same to his car parked 100 feet away
-The helicopter had to land in the LIE's wide grassy median, which would be impossible on most of New York's highways
-The supposed benefit of speed didn't show up, it took 20 minutes for the first car to be removed
-The swinging of cars as they were being lifted could've posed problems in built up areas
-Rubbernecking could be a real problem, he said that they tried it in Detroit and wound up with a bigger pileup than when they started!

Even Sikorsky's PR man wasn't very enthusiastic in his sales pitch saying "We were just demonstrating a concept, not the finished article."

And as far as I can tell, this was the end of the flying tow truck dream.


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