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A Flying Car Is Taking off Near the Motor City

Detroit Flying Cars hopes to have its WD-1 in the air by next year.

How will the WD-1 differ from other vehicles and concepts that have been dubbed “flying cars”? Detroit Flying Cars founder Sanjay Dhall, the person who designed and is building the WD-1 prototype in a hangar at Canton-Plymouth Mettetal Airport in Canton, Mich., says that some of those machines don’t fly like planes and others don’t drive like cars, but his will do both.

“The models that fly with rotors and have vertical-takeoff capabilities are largely an outgrowth from small quad-copters and drones,” says Dhall. “It is a technology that enables short flight, perhaps enables urban mobility. However, it does not do much for the craving that most people have, which is the ability to drive and fly at will—and for long distances.”

He says that other models with greater range and flying speed are too wide and too long for the road. Driving one of those models, says Dhall, would be as challenging as driving a U-Haul truck.

At 16 feet long and 6 feet wide, the mostly carbon-fiber WD-1 has the dimensions of a midsize sedan. The tail structure, which looks like a Plymouth Superbird’s spoiler and will provide lift during takeoffs, reaches 6 feet 3 inches, but the vehicle is still compact enough to fit in a home garage. Powered by a pusher propeller located in the rear of the vehicle, the WD-1 will have a cruising speed of 125 mph when flying and a range of 400 miles. It will be able to carry two passengers and be equipped with a full-vehicle parachute.

To protect the wings from fender-benders and parking-lot dings and keep them from adversely affecting the way the vehicle handles on the road, Dhall is employing a design in which they telescope into the body of the vehicle when it’s in driving mode. With the wings completely concealed, says Dhall, the WD-1 looks almost like a normal car. “The machine should be pleasant and simple in its demeanor and its appearance for it to be accepted as a car,” he says.

Dhall, a pilot who has built and flown several kit planes, is as familiar with autos as he is with aircraft. He’s the founder and CEO of Emergent Systems, an engineering-services company near Detroit that creates products for auto suppliers. Dhall came from India to the United States in 1985 and earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Toledo. He also studied business at the University of Michigan.

WD-1 is not necessarily the vehicle’s permanent name. Dhall began using it after a friend who was building a component for him used the letters SWD for the subject line of an email. “I called him and asked what did SWD stand for?” recalls Dhall. “And he said, ‘Sanjay’s Wild Dream.’ And so I took the WD from there and said, ‘Let’s just call it WD-1 for now.’”

The WD-1 may be his dream, but Dhall intends to finish building the prototype in the next few months and fly it as soon as next year. Assuming all goes well, Dhall may sell the WD-1 as an experimental kit vehicle at first, before seeking certification and approval for a production version from the Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Transportation—a process that could take many years. “I think once we have test-flown it,” he says, “we may have a better understanding of those next steps.”

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