Military

Multicopter meets monster truck: The AT Transformer roadable VTOL aircraft

Multicopter meets monster truc...
The AT Black Knight Transformer
The AT Black Knight Transformer
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The AT Black Knight Transformer
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The AT Black Knight Transformer
The AT Black Knight Transformer technology demonstrator (top) and the AT Black Knight Transformer operational concept vehicle (bottom) with turbo diesel engines
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The AT Black Knight Transformer technology demonstrator (top) and the AT Black Knight Transformer operational concept vehicle (bottom) with turbo diesel engines
The Panther concept vehicle (left) and scaled technology demonstrator (right)
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The Panther concept vehicle (left) and scaled technology demonstrator (right)
The Black Knight Transformer technology demonstrator in flight configuration
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The Black Knight Transformer technology demonstrator in flight configuration
AT Black Knight Transformer technology demonstrator during driving tests
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AT Black Knight Transformer technology demonstrator during driving tests
Four-engine technology evaluation aircraft flown in 2012
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Four-engine technology evaluation aircraft flown in 2012
AT engineer, Rustom Jehangir, is standing next to the vehicle for scale
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AT engineer, Rustom Jehangir, is standing next to the vehicle for scale
Black Knight Transformer operational concept design with streamlined aerodynamics and more powerful and efficient turbo diesel engines
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Black Knight Transformer operational concept design with streamlined aerodynamics and more powerful and efficient turbo diesel engines
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When someone mentions flying cars it conjures up images of a sporty little number that takes to the air like something out of the Jetsons. But what about one that’s a cross between a 4x4, an octocopter, and a Blackhawk helicopter? That’s what Advanced Tactics of El Segundo, California is seeing with its ambitions to produce a roadable VTOL aircraft capable of unmanned autonomous operations as a more flexible way to recover casualties, move supplies, and support special forces.

Medivac operations have revolutionized casualty evacuation. The ability to airlift wounded soldiers direct from the battlefield to a surgical unit within the "golden hour" between injury and treatment dramatically increases the chances of survival. The trouble is, helicopters can only land in nice, big open areas that can be miles from where they're needed.

That’s where the AT Black Knight Transformer comes in. It’s billed as the world’s first roadable vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft that’s capable of landing close to where it's needed, then driving the rest of the way. It’s seen as an economical aerial ambulance or cargo transporter to serve soldiers in the field with an interior volume comparable to a Blackhawk helicopter.

Black Knight Transformer operational concept design with streamlined aerodynamics and more powerful and efficient turbo diesel engines
Black Knight Transformer operational concept design with streamlined aerodynamics and more powerful and efficient turbo diesel engines

When the AT Black Knight Transformer is operational, it will be a streamlined aircraft with turbo diesel engines capable of handling 1,000 lb (453 kg) or five passengers with a 250 nautical mile (463 km) range at 130 knots (241 km/h). On the ground, it will be able to haul 1,600 lb (726 kg) or eight passengers and manage 70 mph (over 110 km/h).

That, however, is in the future. For the moment, Advanced Tactics says that a full-scale technology demonstrator completed its first driving tests last month, and that the first flights are scheduled for early this year.

The AT Transformer vehicle technology is based on combining the capabilities of a multi-rotor helicopter with those of a motor car. According to the company, the idea is to produce a vehicle that is not only simple and robust with a highly modular design, but also one that is capable of autonomous, unmanned operation to avoid risking the life of a pilot. The engines are a direct drive connection to prop rotors with off-the-shelf components wherever possible set in a modular, field-replaceable configuration.

The design of the rotors is based on that of the multi-rotor helicopters that have become so popular with hobbyists.These provide a simple, stable configuration without the need for tail rotors or complex linkages with stability and control provided by a high-speed computerized feedback control system. In addition, the system allows for controlled engine-out flight in the event of an emergency.

On the ground, the engine modules fold against the body of the vehicle to provide a street-legal width and each module can be replaced by two people. Also, the payload bay can be swapped out to accommodate different missions. There’s an automotive suspension and drive train with large truck tires.

AT engineer, Rustom Jehangir, is standing next to the vehicle for scale
AT engineer, Rustom Jehangir, is standing next to the vehicle for scale

According to Advanced Tactics, the Black Knight was developed using an iterative prototype process starting with small electric machines and working on up the scale. In 2012, the company began work on the AT Panther Transformer, which is a smaller vehicle designed for special forces work and is sized to fit in the payload bay of a CV-22 Osprey.

Source: Advanced Tactics

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25 comments
Kestrela
Interesting but very loud, inefficient and a little issue of drag!! Maybe they should speak to www.vtoldynamics.com as they seem to have a much simpler solution with more flexibility...
BigGoofyGuy
I think it has potential. I think it could also be a commercial cargo craft where one could fly it to a remote area and drive it to the location where it would be unloaded. It make getting the cargo there faster since one would not have to unload it to truck to deliver it to the destination. Perhaps to silence the noise (or at least muffle it) would be to add mufflers to the engines?
Kestrela
Oh yes you could, but it would still be eight engines screaming away and the nacelles needed to muffle that would be more weight and less cargo. I also wonder what its thermal signature would be with eight engines and exhausts. Anyhow, if the platform is VTOL, the need for wheels is greatly diminished so hence i feel the VTOL Dynamics option of hybrid electric and smaller footprint with greater forward flight speed is a better solution....Hey, its just my take on it.
VirtualGathis
@Kestrela - I looked at the www.vtoldynamics.com site. It's still a bluesky project without a prototype and not a "roadable" vehicle. So it is not an apple/apple comparison. Now taking the www.vtoldynamics.com system as what it is, a pure aircraft that is VTOL capable, it looks like it will be very usefull. That is of course if it ever makes it off the design table and into the real world.
Kestrela
VirtualGathis - Yes it looks interesting, but they have flown a scale POC thats about 1.5m x1.5m and the site shows it flying so it may not be as "Bluesky" as we think, anyhow...I digress...ha ha
Keith Reeder
" Maybe they should speak to www.vtoldynamics.com as they seem to have a much simpler solution with more flexibility..." Bit short on wheels...
Kestrela
Keith Reeder - If its VTOL are wheels needed?
Slowburn
A sling load casualty carrier would appear more practical.
Kestrela
Keith Reeder - As i said, if its VTOL, if it was quieter, stealthier and less bulky, Why would it need wheels?
Michael Wilson
because it would not be roadable without wheels.