Saturday, September 18, 2010

DARPA Works to Develop A Flying Humvee For U.S. Troops

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is working to develop a "flying Humvee" that could be piloted by troops with about the same amount of training it takes to drive an armored truck.

A working prototype could be ready by 2015. In the weeks to come, DARPA is expected to turn to several defense companies for research, and some have already created conceptual designs.

The Transformer would carry four combat-ready troops and equipment, totaling more than 1,000 pounds, according to DARPA. It would be able to fly and drive about 250 miles on a single tank and could take off and land vertically. It would also be capable of flying autonomously to a designated location.

The vehicle's designers say it could offer several key advantages with the ability to avoid improvised explosive devices, chief among them. The vehicle would allow troops to hop over roadside bombs simply by flying above them. And while the vehicle would not posses nearly the amount of armor current vehicles do since it must be light to fly, it would still offer protection against most small-arms fire.

The vehicle could also help save lives by allowing for faster casualty evacuations. Unlike helicopters which have to be dispatched from a base, Transformers could be prepositioned at frontline locations so they are ready to transport Marines in just minutes, DARPA reports.

The special operations community is also closely following the Transformer project according to Marine Corps and DARPA documents. It could be useful to resupply special operators working in remote and hostile conditions. Transformer could be loaded with supplies and flown autonomously to a landing zone, where special operators would recover the supplies and be left with a vehicle for use on their mission.

But more than just facilitating current operations, Transformer could change the way operations are conducted from the ground up. It could alter basic Marine Corps amphibious assault doctrine. Rather than lumbering to shore in amphibious assault vehicles for a frontal assault into enemy guns, flying Humvees could enable Marines to leapfrog over the shore, according to a Marine Corps presentation made in January that outlined possible uses for a flying car. Marines could move straight to their objective instead of getting bogged down on the beach and unlike helicopter insertions, they would arrive already buckled into ground transportation.

Marine officials also say they are interested in a flying car for the more immediate advances the program's research might yield.

"The idea of having a flying car is interesting, but that is kind of a gee-whiz kind of thing," said James Lasswell, head of the Office of Science and Technology at the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab in Quantico, Va.

But the research could result in improvements to unmanned helicopters the Marine Corps is already developing, he said.

For example, DARPA's call for enclosed rotor blades could protect troops from rotors placed at human-height. Enclosed rotors also enhance the craft's tilt-rotor capabilities making it more maneuverable.

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