Engineer Sanjay Dhall is building a flying car in suburban Detroit and hopes to test-fly it next summer.
John Gallagher, Detrot Free Press
Inventors follow their own star.
Ask Sanjay Dhall why he devotes hundreds of hours away from his family and a successful business to build a flying car — yes, a flying car — and he takes you back to his youth in India.
“The crowds in India drove me nuts,” he said this week at the Canton–Plymouth Mettetal Airport. “If you grow up in India you’re bumping into people all the time. So I always wanted to get away and fly over it all. Part of the reason for coming to the United States was the open spaces here. The ability to fly over this stuff has always driven me.”
His invention — not air-worthy yet, but trending that way fairly soon — is a sporty looking craft with airplane wings that telescope into the body so the vehicle can operate as a car on the roads.
Handcrafted, mostly from carbon fiber, the vehicle is a type of aircraft known as a “canard,” the French word for duck. It refers to aircraft where the smaller “tail” wings are in the front, just as the Wright brothers original Flyer had them.
This is a photo of the rear propeller of this prototype Flying Car designed by Sanjay Dhall Thursday, July 20, 2017 at Canton-Plymouth Mettetal Airport in Canton, MI. (Photo: Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)
There’s a “pusher” propeller at the rear of the aircraft. It’s powered by a hybrid engine with most power generated by an electric motor. It’s a two-seat model, just like a sports car.
And, just in case, there’ll be a parachute in the vehicle to set it down gently in case of a power loss in flight.
Before you dismiss Dhall as a mere dreamer, note that he’s the founder and CEO of Emergent Systems, a Dearborn industrial design firm that creates innovative products for auto suppliers and other major firms. He came to the U.S. in 1985, earned a mechanical engineering degree at the University of Toledo, minored in computer science, and studied business at the University of Michigan.
Beginning Monday, Dhall will exhibit his flying car at EAA AirVenture, a major international air show in Oshkosh, Wis., catering to all manner of unusual aircraft. He recently launched his website, detroitflyingcars.com, and hopes to finish his prototype by next summer for a first test flight.
Eventually, he’ll need FAA approval to test-fly his vehicle. And before he turns it loose on the highways, he’ll have to add windshield wipers, a license plate, and all that. He dimly perceives commercial possibilities as the world increasingly mulls ideas like flying cars. But becoming a billionaire, or the Steve Jobs of disruptive aviation, doesn’t even flicker on his radar screen.
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Detail of the front end of this prototype Flying Car designed by Sanjay Dhall Thursday, July 20, 2017 at Canton-Plymouth Mettetal Airport in Canton, MI. (Photo: Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)
“I’ve always loved to design wacky things, strange things,” he said. “I just find that there is uniqueness buried in things that don’t meet the convention. If you make something wacky, there could be a hidden secret that you could unlock.”
A pilot, Dhall has several home-built airplanes to his credit with hundreds of hours in the air. His hobby is all-consuming. I ask Dhall what his wife thinks about his flying-car project. “She says, ‘When will this end so I can be back home!’ “
He admits to some fear about flying his invention next summer, wondering whether all his calculations will be correct and all the nuts and bolts tightened down. But that just spurs him to work harder on getting it right.
“That’s the nature of discovery,” he said. “There are failures along the way. Some can be not so pleasant. But that’s the only way to crack the nut, to go forward.”
A fellow enthusiast for self-built aircraft, Randy Hebron, stops by Hangar D5 at the Canton airport where Dhall builds his craft. “It’s great,” Hebron said of Dhall’s vehicle. “It shows promise where the other flying cars all had difficulties. This answers a lot of those questions.“
Dhall’s invention moves ahead even as Toyota engineers are working on a flying “car” and Dutch start-up PAL-V announced recently that it was taking $10,000 deposits for its $400,000-and-up two-seat Liberty flying car, while Slovakia-based AeroMobil began doing the same for its $1-million-plus machine due out in three years.
Dhall hopes that his design prevails over the others. But whatever the future, he’ll keep at it.
“If there’s anything I tell my own kids, it’s just be the last man standing,” he says. “And sooner or later something will break our way.”
Words to live by.
Contact John Gallagher: 313-222-5173 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jgallagherfreep.
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