Your Taxpayer Dollars at Work: DARPA wants a Roadable Aircraft for the US Military

The roadable aircraft is nothing new. It’s essentially an airplane with folding wings and four wheels, allowing it to be driven like a car. It’s so old, in fact, that working examples have been in existence since 1949 in the form of the eponymous Aerocar. Which begs the question: why haven’t we tried to militarize these things? After all, we’ve successfully militarized the motorcycle, the automobile and the airplane.

As anything is possible when you have a defense budget that rivals the GDP of East Timor, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is providing Terrafugia, builders of the world’s only (in more than one sense of the word) working roadable aircraft with US$65 million of funding to build a four-seat roadable aircraft known as the Transformer / TX.

The Massachusetts based firm is teaming up with AAI, a U.S. DoD contractor and builder of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and its Textron subsidiaries to build the TX, which will have a proposed range of 280 miles on land and air, vertical take-off capability and automated flight controls for operation by non-pilots.

Strangely enough, it sounds to me like the same thing Paul Moller has been working on for the last forty years in the form of his M400 Skycar. Somebody ought to give that man a DoD contract just for trying.

The three phase program expects to produce a working prototype as early as Q1 2015, with the TX being pressed into medivac, remote resupply and Special Forces insertion roles sometime after that (you know, if it doesn’t all fall by the wayside *cough* *cough* X-33 *cough*). Though it has to be said: what part of this can’t be achieved with a Bell UH-60 helicopter and a HumVee?

Terrafugia CEO Carl Dietrich is, as one would expect, very excited about the project:

"This DARPA program effectively leverages Terrafugia's core competencies and enables us to grow from a pure [General Aviation] company to an emerging aerospace company with both general aviation and defense development programs. Our strong team of Terrafugia engineers with recent experience designing and building a dual purpose vehicle will bring a unique perspective to the TX program that is highly valued by DARPA and the other contractors on our TX team."

But don’t think that all this talk about militarization will dissolve the dream of the roadable aircraft for John Q. Public; Terrafugia is still committed to producing its Transition Light Sport Aircraft with an expected launch after Q3 2011.

By Tristan Hankins