DARPA kick-starts flying car program

DARPA TX vehicle could drive, launch and fly when needed

Military scientists are looking to ramp up research and development of a flying military vehicle that will hold up to 4 people and have the ability to launch vertically and soar when necessary. 

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) will this month hold its first Proposers' Day Workshop in support of a flying car program it will begin this year known as the Transformer (TX).  The goal of the TX will be to build a flying vehicle that will let military personnel avoid water, difficult terrain, and road obstructions as well as IED and ambush threats by driving and flying when necessary. 

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DARPA said the vehicle will need to be able to drive on prepared surface and light off-road conditions, as well as support Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) features. 

 The TX will also support range and speed efficiencies that will allow for missions to be performed on a single tank of fuel. DARPA said the TX will "provide 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." 

DARPA said current transport systems present operational limitations where the warfighter is either anchored to the ground with a Humvee and thus vulnerable to ambush, or reliant on helicopters, which are limited in flight speed and availability. The TX will let soldiers approach targets from directions opportune to them and not the enemy, DARPA stated. 

Key requirements of the research and development will include:

  • Develop a robust vehicle design that maximizes military utility at a reasonable cost
  • Identify and mature the critical enabling technologies necessary to vehicle development, Build a single prototype vehicle that demonstrates the program goals through ground and flight tests.
  • Examination of adaptive wing structures, ducted fan propulsion, lightweight composite materials, advanced flight control technology for stable transition from vertical to horizontal flight, hybrid electric drive, advanced batteries, and others. 

DARPA is not only looking to get a vehicle that flies, it is also developing one that that's as capable of zipping through the sky as it is underwater. 

Announced last year, the agency's Submersible Aircraft research project is exploring the possibility of making an aircraft that can maneuver underwater with the  goal of revolutionizing the US Department of Defense's ability to, for example, bring military personnel and equipment to coastal locations or enhance rescue operations. DARPA said that the concept being evaluated here is for a submersible aircraft, not a flying submarine. It is expected that the platform will spend the bulk of its time in the air and will only spend short periods of time submerged according to the agency.

According to DARPA: "The difficulty with developing such a craft comes from the diametrically opposed requirements that exist for an airplane and a submarine. While the primary goal for airplane designers is to try and minimize weight, a submarine must be extremely heavy in order to submerge underwater. In addition, the flow conditions and the systems designed to control a submarine and an airplane are radically different, due to the order of magnitude difference in the densities of air and water." 

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