A vision from 1958 imagining what police of the future might look like
Illustration: Mechanix Illustrated

In the 1950s and 60s, Americans were fascinated by the idea of flying cars and jetpacks that would let people soar above the traffic. But it wasn’t just the average commuter who was supposed to benefit from these space-age technologies. Emergency responders like police and ambulances were going to take to the skies to help save lives, like in this illustration from legendary retro-future artist Frank Tinsley.

Tinsley was a popular illustrator for periodicals in the 1950s and 60s, showing people of that era what could be in store by the 21st century. The illustration above appeared in the November 1958 issue of Mechanix Illustrated magazine and demonstrated how a futuristic patrol car might come to the rescue by hovering over the traffic that was ensnarled below.

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The excellent old magazine blog Modern Mechanix has scans of this particular magazine spread featuring the “copter cops” of tomorrow.

From the magazine:

TODAY’S high-speed turnpikes require ground-bound traffic police to take to the air and graduate to the status of “Copter Cops,” mounted in a vehicle that could speed safely above the car-choked roads and provide a bird’s eye view of driving conditions and dangers. Such a vehicle could go far beyond the utility of the present patrol car. It could control traffic speed, clear jams at bottle-necks, perform emergency rescue work and provide fast aerial ambulance service, plus offering a more efficient pursuit of criminals.

MI’s paddy-wagon for Copter Cops is based on the Army’s specifications for a compact, high-lift aerial jeep. It takes the form of a stable “flying platform,” built around three ducted-fan units. Each of these is fitted with a pair of contra-rotating propellers spinning on a horizontal plane to drive a column of air downward. The force of this airstream provides the machine’s lift. Power is provided by twin gas turbines.

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The “flying platform” that the article refers to was being tested by the U.S. military in the 1950s. The platform was strange and ultimately never saw the battlefield, but that didn’t stop popular illustrators like Tinsley from imagining how they might be modified for the future.

Again, from the magazine:

The vehicle is designed to carry three policemen, the minimum crew for efficient patrol work. In the event of a wreck, as shown, it lands on the central safety island with one of the crew clearing a space by directions called through an electric “bull horn.” Upon landing, one of the men takes over traffic control while the other two place the injured on litters and lock them safely in place in the enclosed “Utter wells” on either side of the copter’s cabin.

The pilot then takes off for the nearest hospital, leaving his mates to superintend activities at the accident scene. Upon the patrol vehicle’s return, a cable is hooked to the wreck and it is dragged or lifted to a safe spot off the highway.

With its inflated pontoon rim, MI’s copter is capable of landing on land, water or in deep snow. A kit of emergency tools is carried and the crew is armed with rifles and sub-machine gun. Floodlights are set in the lower surface and a built-in loud speaker can be used to flag down an offending vehicle.

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The world didn’t get its flying cars or jetpacks, at least not in the way that we imagined them 60 years ago. But that hasn’t stopped people from trying. There are plenty of companies that insist flying cars are still just around the corner. But we’re not going to hold our breath. We’ve heard it all before. We’ll believe it when we see it being sold at the shop down the corner.

Until then, these copter cops are relegated to the future that never was. And it’s probably for the best. Have you seen what American cops are doing with the tools they already have? The last thing they need is more advanced technology.

[Modern Mechanix and Reddit]

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