Roadable airplane developer Terrafugia Inc. has joined a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program to develop a military vehicle that combines Humvee ground capabilities with the advantages of a helicopter.
The Transformer (TX) program aims to provide the military with operational flexibility by developing a four-person ground vehicle that can transform into an air vehicle with vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capability. DARPA awarded contracts to AAI Corp. and Lockheed Martin Co. for the vehicle, intended to travel 250 nautical miles by land or air, or any combination, while carrying up to 1,000 pounds. Terrafugia, developer of the Transition roadable aircraft, is the largest subcontractor of the AAI team, the company said in a press release.
“This DARPA program effectively leverages Terrafugia’s core competencies and enables us to grow from a pure GA company to an emerging aerospace company with both general aviation and defense development programs,” said Terrafugia CEO Carl Dietrich in a news release.
The AAI team also includes fellow Textron businesses Bell Helicopter and Textron Marine & Land Systems, as well as research and development company Carter Aviation Technologies LLC, and the U. S. Army Research Laboratory - Vehicle Technology Directorate. Terrafugia said the work calls for its expertise in drive and flight integration, deployable flight surfaces, and automotive crash safety for an aircraft.
DARPA said it envisions that the guidance and flight control systems of the TX will allow for semi-autonomous flight, permitting a nonpilot to operate it in flight. The AAI concept depicts a folding rotor and wing, while the Lockheed Martin concept employs ducted fans.
“The TX vehicle is intended to make roads irrelevant for military small unit maneuvers,” the DARPA website explains. “These units can use TX air vehicles to fly over obstacles or impassible terrain, avoid ambushes and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Personal TX vehicles could be dispatched for downed airman recovery or for evacuating injured personnel from difficult to access locations, or to resupply isolated small units.”