New DARPA project focuses on future vehicles, armor

Terrafugia, developer of the Transition Roadable Aircraft, has been announced by AAI Corp. as the largest subcontractor to develop the Transformer helicopter/Humvee for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA, Arlington, Va.) has launched a $65 million (USD) program to develop an airworthy and roadworthy four-seat military vehicle. Terrafugia Inc. (Woburn, Mass.), the developer of the trademarked Transition Roadable Aircraft, or “Flying Car,” is the largest subcontractor to one of two winning teams, led by AAI Corp. (Hunt Valley, Md.).

The proposed vehicle, known as the Transformer, or TX, would function like a Humvee on the ground but provide helicopter-like aerial mobility. The result, according to DARPA, will be “unprecedented capability to avoid traditional and asymmetrical threats while avoiding road obstructions.” Intended missions include medical evacuation, avoidance of improvised explosive devices, remote resupply and Special Forces insertion. The vehicle will be able to travel 280 miles/451 km by land and air, using vertical takeoff and landing to increase access to difficult terrain and automating flight controls to enable operation by nonpilots. Phase I of the five-year, three-phase program will focus on conceptual design of both a prototype and a production vehicle. Phases II and III will focus on the design and manufacture of the prototype, which could be ready as early as the first quarter of 2015.

The work calls for Terrafugia’s expertise in drive and flight integration, deployable flight surfaces and automotive crash safety for an aircraft. CEO Carl Dietrich says, “This DARPA program effectively leverages Terrafugia’s core competencies and enables us to grow from a pure GA [general aviation] company to an emerging aerospace company with both general aviation and defense development programs.”

The TX program represents an opportunity for Terrafugia to rededicate members of its engineering team while its primary business, the Transition Light Sport Aircraft Program, moves forward on schedule from detailed design to fabrication, testing and into production during the second half of 2011.

Elsewhere, Kairos Partners Inc. (Milan, Italy) announced on Nov. 18 that DARPA has awarded the company an opportunity to participate in its Armor Challenge for vehicles. The DARPA Armor Challenge seeks to identify new armor concepts for military vehicles that comply with a pre-established total areal density and are capable of defeating specified armor-piercing rounds and fragment-simulating projectiles. A secondary goal is determining the feasibility for producing vehicle armor materials at a cost that is competitive with current vehicle armor. The Armor Challenge is primarily designed to enable inventors and small organizations with limited resources to initiate full-scale armor development programs.

Kairos uses several cutting-edge technologies that combine metal-matrix composites (MMCs) and three-dimensionally woven fiber composites into a uniquely effective passive armor solution that can be produced in any shape or thickness.


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