By on January 3, 2010

The Defense Advanced Research Project Administration is apparently savvy to the fact that mainstream car bloggers regularly Google search the term “Transformers,” in search of vaguely car-related (or, in some cases, not) filler. DARPA’s masterstroke? Using the one-time traffic boost title for a project:

to demonstrate a 1 to 4 person transportation vehicle that can drive and fly, thus enabling the warfighter to avoid water, difficult terrain, and road obstructions as well as IED and ambush threats.

Flying cars, and an opportunity for Transformers references? Who can resist?

Not Inside Line. They note helpfully:

The problem with the current Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles is that they have trouble safely traversing demanding battlefields like Afghanistan with such variable landscapes. A flying car would allow the military to dominate in an asymmetric warfare environment — they would have the ability to vertically take off and land anywhere as well as go over varying terrain with very few hiccups in altitude or velocity.

IL goes on to suggest a trio of companies as possible government partners, including Moller (which is well-covered at DavisWiki), Terrafugia and someone named Jeff Allen Case. None of which have produced vehicles for sale. In fact, this is about as good as it gets right now. DARPA’s  announcement for Project Transformer doesn’t mention a budget, but you’ve gotta guess that the firms singled out by IL see this as the break they’ve been hoping (or paying lobbyists) for. What does DARPA think it will get out of the flying car ether (or is that vapor?) that it can’t get from say, helicopters?

Current transport systems present operational limitations where the warfighter is either anchored to the ground with HMMWVs and thus vulnerable to ambush, or reliant on helicopters, which are limited in flight speed and availability. TX provides the flexibility to adapt to traditional and asymmetric threats by providing the operator unimpeded movement over difficult terrain. In addition, transportation is no longer restricted to trafficable terrain that tends to makes movement predictable. This enables the warfighter to approach targets from directions opportune to them and not the enemy.

Or, maybe the Pentagon just bet Treasury it could find a worse auto industry investment than GM and Chrysler.

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8 Comments on “Skycar And The Military Of Tomorrow...”

  • avatar

    “ A flying car would allow the military to dominate in an asymmetric warfare environment…”

    True…and so would laser rifles, smart bullets, nuclear grenades, and invisibility suits. Anything else I might have missed while we’re on the topic of highly plausible military applications?

    • 0 avatar

      “The wars of the future will not be fought on the battlefield or at sea. They will be fought in space, or possibly on top of a very tall mountain. In either case, most of the actual fighting will be done by small robots. And as you go forth today remember always your duty is clear: To build and maintain those robots.”

  • avatar

    Don’t we already have some of those? I think they’re called helicopters. Why would a Skycar be any cheaper, more plentiful or less vulnerable?
    Has anyone else read about the powered armor worn by the Mobile Infantry in Robert Heinlein’s science fiction novel, Starship Troopers? That would work.

  • avatar

    Unless there’s anti-gravity technology built in I cannot see anything like this being remotely useful.  Almost all the fuel it uses will be to keep it in the air, leaving a small percentage for propulsion over distance.
    Helicopters are the evolved platform for efficient, hovering, heavier-than-air machines for a reason: the airfoil surfaces provide lift and increase in efficiency as forward speeds increase.  And helicopters used as flying Jeeps fell out of favor with the ubiquity of man portable air defense systems.  If the Vietcong had a few thousand shoulder-fired SAMs, the air cav-intensive nature of the Vietnam war would never have played out.
    Ducted fan designs are useful in making fixed wing aircraft mutable for less-than-ideal or nontraditional theaters, but the utility only exists during takeoff and landing before the lifting efficiency of the large airfoil can be used.

  • avatar

     Unless there’s anti-gravity technology built in I cannot see anything like this being remotely useful.  Almost all the fuel it uses will be to keep it in the air, leaving a small percentage for propulsion over distance.

    For the vehicle pictured in the video you are totally correct.   But, I’m not sure why TTAC used that particular video.

    Take a look at this – as an example:

    I would imagine this vehicle would transition to forward conventional airfoil supported flight as soon as possible.  I’d even imagine that, much like a Harrier, it would be much more fuel efficient when allowed to take off and land with some airflow over the wings.

  • avatar

    None of which have produced vehicles for sale……

    DARPA specializes in lunatic-sounding ideas that pan out often enough to justify their approach. If anything were remotely close to being for sale, then by its charter, DARPA would have no interest. The intartubes are a DARPA production…..
    Starship Troopers powered armor isn’t here yet, but there are at least two competing exoskeleton lifters, a la Aliens, that are competing for further development.
    Snicker if you will, and I too would bet against any DARPA development sight unseen, but damned if you wouldn’t lose that bet from time to time. And you gain knowledge and insight from the unsuccessful efforts in the bargain.

  • avatar

    Many years ago in Afganistan the Mujihadeen figured out how to fuse RPG’s so they could shoot down Russian heliocopters.  The Taliban are quite adept at peppering low slow flying aircraft with small arms fire.  If there were such a thing as a working flying car it wouldn’t solve the problem of roadside IED’ fatalities, it would only make it easier to kill a few American infidels.

    Moller has been peddling this technoligical snake-oil for decades.   He has yet to solve the main problems that enable any heavier than air vehicle to fly.  He uses multiple ducted fans, which means the thrust is uneven and unequal, causing huge stability problems.  He has yet to get his creations to transition from vertical flight to horizontal flight.  If you look at the video you’ll see a large crane in the background to which his ‘saucer’ is tethered-that’s in case it veers off out of control, or worse tries to flip over. 
    All Mr. Moller has is an overpowered hovercraft without a skirt.  He might be able to sell it as a self-propelled leaf blower, but as a military vehicle? I don’t think so.

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