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A flying Humvee? Don't scoff, Pentagon wants one

October 19, 2010 | 12:14 pm

Transformer gunship final

It may look like a toy commando truck from the G.I. Joe cartoons, but the Pentagon is serious about developing a flying Humvee.

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, has handed out about $9 million in contracts to develop the vehicle. The agency envisions it being capable to carry out a wide range of missions including raining down ammunition on enemies and shuttling wounded soldiers off the battlefield.

The program, dubbed Transformer, “seeks to combine the advantages of ground vehicles and helicopters into a single vehicle equipped with flexibility of movement,” the Pentagon said.

Artist’s mock-ups of the vehicle look like Marty McFly’s DeLorean on steroids. The Transformer will have folding wings that will pop out the sides and a rotor blade that churns on the roof. Also, it will be robotic, meaning there will be no pilot or driver behind the wheel.

DARPA said the Humvee should be able to haul around 1,000 pounds while traveling a distance of 287  AAI_SR-C miles at a time –- without refueling. This means the Humvee will have to go against its gas-guzzling image and burn through fuel efficiently, said Scott Claflin, director of Power Innovations, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne.

His company landed a $1-million contract to design a high-powered, lightweight engine for the Transformer. Claflin and a team of about a dozen engineers will help develop the engine at Pratt & Whitney’s facility in Canoga Park.

“We’re excited to work on the program,” Claflin said. “There has never been an engine built like this before.” DARPA has selected six companies to work on the Transformer program in its 12-month development phase. For now, AAI Corp. and Lockheed Martin Corp., the nation’s largest defense firm, are listed as program’s prime contractors.

DARPA will sit down with all the companies for the first time on Thursday, Claflin said.

-- W.J. Hennigan

Photos: An illustration of the Transformer vehicle. Credit: AAI Corp.

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