Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 SAE AEROTECH conference was held live online with videos posted on-demand for future viewing.
Sanjay Dhall, founder of Detroit Flying Cars, gave viewers an update on the development of its flying automobile prototype. Previously, he’s worked as an aircraft designer, builder and pilot.
The company was started to develop dual-mode vehicles that can both drive on the road and fly in the air.
“At the current time, as we are coming out of this Covid-19 pandemic, people are rethinking the entire matter of sharing spaces with other people,” Dhall said. “Airliners are starting to look packed with masked people. You can imagine the personal need for a sense of freedom and of control. There’s a reason that I believe there will be vehicles flying as well as on the road. People will feel a sense of control in their desire to move around and also a sense of independence to go where you chose to go not where other people are going.”
He continued, “Air mobility and the term flying car has been exploited and has morphed into something quite different from the early images of the flying car. Hundreds of companies and hundreds of teams are at work all over the world in building vehicles that have vertical take off capabilities that are electric power driven that will carry several people. A lot of these are driving towards certain designs that largely solve the urban mobility problem. Escaping traffic and being dropped off in areas where traffic is more manageable.”
Shall and his team from Detroit Flying Cars built a prototype of a flying car. They later conducted some ground testing at Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti, Mich.
“The goal for these vehicles at least within our organization is guided by freedom, independence and control. The goals of these efforts are very different than the urban mobility goals. The technical challenge largely in this space happens to be one of packaging. It is one of trying to determine how to package the flying services of an aircraft into the footprint of a car with the fewest number of moving parts and keeping this is simple and robust as possible. Our design uses a telescopic wing structure with a couple of panels on each side. It transforms from a car into an airplane. Scale models were built at 1/6 scale to test and verify the flying car.”
However, after several months of testing the flying car prototype, it unexpectedly lifted off and crash landed. Shall was the pilot at the time and he survived to talk about the experience.
“I learned several lessons: We gained a lot of data from the early months of ground testing as well as from that unsuccessful first take off. This led us to a lot of revised thinking about various flight attributes and design considerations, which we have been pursuing in the second prototype which is being developed as we speak. It still is the same pusher configuration with an internal combustion aircraft engine. However, the wing areas and fuelslage area have changed considerably. We envision the use of these vehicles one day for shirt distance driving to the local grocery store as well as long distance flights for perhaps thousands of miles with with a stop for refueling.”
Despite the setback, Detroit Flying Cars will stick with their goal and continue developing and perfecting flying cars.
For more information about Detroit Flying Cars, visit their website at: https://detroitflyingcars.com/