Iconic scenes from an iconic TV cartoon: the clean, benevolent whirring of future flight; a family with smirks on their faces racing past towers and saucer-shaped houses on platforms; “traffic jams” of whirring machines; a foldable car. One blogger calls the Jetsons’ flying car “[o]ne of the most easily identifiable elements of the show” and it is as universally recognized as anything in American cartoons.

We all want(ed) the small, car-like flying vehicle featured in the cartoon. And it seems we might have one now, although it’s a propeller vehicle. The Jetsons’ vehicle, as we will see soon, has an engine, or maybe more than one. In the Jetsons’ society, acquisition of the car is an expected consumer endeavor. Paleofuture blogger Matt Novak puts the Jetsons’ flying car into historical perspective, describing the episode where “George and Jane set out to buy a new car and arrive at Molecular Motors where they and the viewers at home are treated to a car salesman’s pitch from the year 2062.” As Novak explains, these flying machines had been in the imagination of both artists and entrepreneurs for many years before they were developed for the cartoon.

In another article we learn that in 1954 Ford Motors designed a concept car that would later be modeled by the cartoon’s creators. with “far out styling, a Jetsons-like cockpit, a centralized driving position, joystick controls, and a rear monitor meant for who-knows-what purpose,” FX-Atmos, as it was called, would have been impossible to fly conventionally, “unable to roll under its own power,” the article points out.

The Jetsons’ car sure runs, though. Way back in 2010 John Pearley Huffman wrote a piece on the vehicle for Car and Driver speculating on precisely how – a question for which there’s considerable data, but, as far as I know, no uniform canon. Huffman observes that in the “Jetsons’ Night Out,” episode, the car runs out of fuel, which George Jetson refers to as “fuel pellets.” He asks for “high-octane pellets” at the gas station and asks that the vehicle’s radium be checked. We thus learn that the car also runs on radium, although it’s unclear how much of one and how much of the other. Huffman theorizes that “there’s some sort of pressurized nuclear reaction going on. Going out on a limb, it’s probably cold fusion, with each putt in the putt-putt sound from the car’s exhaust representing a new, heavier nucleus being formed.” This means the Jetsons drive a hybrid.

A comment on the same article adds: “In the episode ‘The Space Car,” George instructs his wife, Jane, that a little button on the left activates “the horizontal power cluster.’ This leads us to conclude that the Jetsons’ car uses multiple separate systems for generating both the vertical anti-gravity effect and horizontal propulsion.” The idea that one system makes the vehicle defy gravity, and the other accelerates and propels it, might violate Occam’s Razor – the simpler explanation would be a singular hybrid fusion engine.

The Jetsons’ aesthetic is so recognizable that most people reading this post will have scenes and snapshots of the series in their heads as they read it. In another article, Matt Novak, who loves writing about the Jetsons so much he wrote a 24-part series on the show, calls that aesthetic Mid-21st Century Modern, citing Danny Graydon, author of The Jetsons: The Official Guide to the Cartoon Classic. It was actually a look into the Los Angeles and Hollywood architecture of the time, though added in were platforms hundreds of feet above the ground. The cars matched the architecture. Everything was curvey and sleek and shiny and clean. Whirrrrrrr.