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Texas Firm Gets Pentagon Support For Flying Car

Transformer-like concept to help troops sidestep ambushes?

by on Jul.16, 2010

Able to leap tall buildings -- and enemy ambushes -- in a single bound, the AVX Transformer TX concept.

It’s been the dream of automotive entrepreneurs since at least the days of Henry Ford, but now a Texas start-up made up mostly of aviation industry veterans is betting it can come up with the elusive combination of automobile and aircraft.

Bearing a bit of a similarity to a child’s transformer toy, which can quickly take on a variety of different shapes, the concept being developed by AVX Aircraft Co. has a distinct advantage over other efforts to mate wings and wheels on a single vehicle – Pentagon cash.

Let Your Imagination Fly!

Worried about the vulnerability of its troops to ambushes, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and other booby-traps, U.S. military planners are taking a closer look at the AVX Transformer TX program.  Though the Pentagon has yet to actually place an order, its research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is about to invest $9 million in preliminary development.

The next step, DARPA says, would be a $54 million payout for the Fort Worth firm to do more formal designs and studies that would lead to the production of a functioning prototype.

What AVX is proposing is more than just a Jeep with wings.  The aerial vehicle is, first of all, a roadworthy transporter capable of carrying four troops for up to 250 miles on a tank of gas.  That’s either on the ground or in the air.

The basic body looks more aircraft-like than automotive, with open, race car-like wheels for ground use.  A pair of coaxial, helicopter-style rotors would deploy for vertical ascent.  And ducted fans would be used to propel the Transformer once it’s in the air.

The Transformer TX concept would have a payload of up to 1,040 pounds, and would cruise at an altitude of up to 10,000 feet.  On-road, it would be propelled by a combination of in-wheel electric motors and the thrust of the ducted fans.   Top speed would be 80 mph on the ground, 140 mph in the air. It would be capable of taking off and landing vertically.

The developers claim the concept could switch from land to air mode, or back again, in just 60 seconds.

Significantly, AVX – which is made up primarily of former employees of Bell Helicopter – is pitching the multi-purpose vehicle as easy to operate whether on land or in the air.  It claims no special license, nor extensive pilot training, would be needed to operate the Transformer.

AVX has more than one application in mind for the technology that would make the flying Jeep.  It also hopes to retool the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopter, a mainstay for the army, which would use twin, counter-rotating rotors and ducted fans.

Neither the Pentagon nor AVX officials are talking price, though the defense roots of the concept — never mind the big helicopter-style blades — suggest civilian applications are not being considered for the ATX Transformer.

Nonetheless, the idea of being able to spread your wings and leapfrog traffic remains a goal that a number of civilian firms continue to pursue, hoping to succeed at a goal Henry Ford struggled with a century ago.

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3 Responses to “Texas Firm Gets Pentagon Support For Flying Car”

  1. Steven Bloxham says:

    Able to avoid enemy ambushes?
    Come on now, only a senate subcomittee and a pentagon technical “task force” would fall for that argument. Years ago the Vietnamese found they could easily down much heavier aircraft with coordinated small arms fire. Downing these toy aircraft would be childs play by comparison.

  2. Bob Austin says:

    I agree with Steve’s point. An ambush? wait, I can be out of here in just 60 seconds! That has to be a lifetime when someone is shooting at you. I noticed it has no doors, and since it has to be light enough to fly instead of just drive, it can not possible carry much armor, so what exactly is its advantage over a land going, all-terrain, passenger vehicle?

    In the history of mechanized vehicles, virtually every multi-purpose design has been bad in one application and worse in the other. In this case, bad ground vehicle/worse helicopter. Remember Amphicar? Bad car, worse boat. But I would love to see one in the next James Bond movie.

  3. Bryan Morris says:

    This whole deal is reminiscent of the classic Pentagon boondoggles of yesteryear. Your tax dollars at waste.