Terrafugia, Aurora Flight Sciences, Metis Design Take Wing in $65M DARPA Program to Design Flying Humvee
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craft. Carter Aviation Technologies, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, ThinGap, and two other Textron companies (Bell Helicopter and Textron Marine & Land Systems) round out the field of participants.
Overall, the effort has some similarities to a previous DARPA research program called “morphing aircraft structures.” That program, which began in the early 2000s, explored materials and designs that would enable aircraft to alter their wing structures (such as shape and surface area) to fly more efficiently at different speeds or for different mission purposes. Development work in that area is continuing, but the new Transformer project presents a fundamentally different challenge.
“The vehicle must be robust enough to meet the Marine’s ground use requirements yet light and aerodynamic enough to fly,” Waller says. “The systems engineering required to bring aircraft components such as propulsors, lifting surfaces, and control schemes into a vehicle that is rugged enough to perform like an SUV off-road, is the very essence of DARPA hard.”
The first phase of the Transformer program will last about 12 months. It will involve designing and testing propulsion systems, adaptable wing structures, advanced lightweight materials, flight control systems, different configurations of the vehicle for air/ground use, and energy storage and distribution systems (including batteries and ultracapacitors). It’s not clear yet what the vehicle’s leading propulsion method will be, but the program’s website lists “hybrid electric drive ducted fan propulsion system” as a technical area to be explored.
I contacted several outside aerospace experts to get more details on the challenges of designing such a vehicle. I’ll update this story if I hear anything compelling.