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The Military Transportation

At Last, Flying Cars? 194

Posted by kdawson
from the no-good-telling-the-girls-you're-a-pilot dept.
ColdWetDog writes, "OK, we've all whined about the fact that we are now firmly entrenched in the 21st Century and no flying cars. So it is gratifying to see that our good friends at DARPA are finally going to do something about it." The project is called Transformer TX. "The Government's envisioned concept consists of a robust ground vehicle that is capable of configuring into a VTOL air vehicle with a maximum payload capability of approximately 1,000 lbs. ... Technologies of interest may include: hybrid electric drive, advanced batteries, adaptive wing structures, ducted fan propulsion systems, advanced lightweight heavy fuel engines, lightweight materials, advanced sensors, and flight controls for stable transition from vertical to horizontal flight. ... Like all DARPA projects Transformer TX is unlikely to succeed at all. Even if US Marine rifle companies one day do ride to war in handy four-man sky jeeps rather than cumbersome choppers or Humvees, that doesn't necessarily mean flying cars for all any more than Harriers or Ospreys did."
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At Last, Flying Cars?

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  • So when do I get my robot servant?
  • by aliddell (1716018) on Saturday April 17, 2010 @01:44PM (#31882874)
    I'm not sure that the average driver needs to worry about three dimensions if he can't handle two well enough.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Tablizer (95088)

      In urban areas they'd probably have to be computer-controlled for just such reasons. And because they may have to select a path over the least-populated areas, which may change depending on time of day.

    • by nametaken (610866) *

      Or solve the problem another way... don't let people pilot dangerous flying things at all.

      I say we face the fact that we aren't great at competently piloting multi-ton vehicles at speeds faster than we can run... even on the ground. Let's just let computers do the work for us. With all the redundancy and safety protocols we could build in, I sincerely doubt a well designed system would do worse than your average ass-hat on [his/her] phone holding the dinner on the passenger seat with one hand and 3 scream

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 17, 2010 @01:47PM (#31882892)

    I for one welcome our Autobot overlords.

  • by geegel (1587009) on Saturday April 17, 2010 @01:48PM (#31882898)

    Finally the thing shows up and only the military can play with it.

  • by John Hasler (414242) on Saturday April 17, 2010 @01:49PM (#31882906) Homepage

    > Like all DARPA projects Transformer TX is unlikely to succeed at all.

    You have a strange definition of success. Hint: DARPA is a research organization.

  • Maybe you could have a few of them link up and form a Zord.
  • Too Heavy? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Mikkeles (698461) on Saturday April 17, 2010 @01:51PM (#31882916)

    '... a VTOL air vehicle with a maximum payload capability of approximately 1,000 lbs?.'

    So a typical US family of four won't be able to acheive lift-off in it!

    • You can take along either the luggage or the kids. Not both.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      A typical US family would have at least 3 of them.

      • by vtcodger (957785)

        ***A typical US family would have at least 3 of them.***

        Not for long I expect. Ignoring "Check Engine" lights and strange noises in a flying vehicle is probably going to have serious consequences. If these things ever hit the consumer market, invest in funeral home stocks.

        • by Marcika (1003625)

          ***A typical US family would have at least 3 of them.***

          Not for long I expect. Ignoring "Check Engine" lights and strange noises in a flying vehicle is probably going to have serious consequences. If these things ever hit the consumer market, invest in funeral home stocks.

          As soon as they design something that one can fly without a pilot's license, it will come with a car-sized parachute -- since the average soldier isn't much smarter than the average civilian: there's a reason they are called "grunts"...

    • by Potor (658520) <farker1@g m a i l . c om> on Saturday April 17, 2010 @06:20PM (#31884266) Journal
      I tagged this: "fitsoneamerican"
  • FTFS:"So it is gratifying to see that our good friends at DARPA are finally going to do something about it." The project is called Transformer TX."

    I wish my wife was as enthusiastic about my garage projects as ColdWetDog is about DARPA's little project. Then again, maybe he doesn't know that he probably has a joint credit card with DARPA.
    • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Saturday April 17, 2010 @02:14PM (#31883078) Homepage

      maybe he doesn't know that he probably has a joint credit card with DARPA.

      I do? I'll go check again. This will be great!

      "No, honey, I didn't order the four GE turbofan engines that just showed up on the UPS dock. That wasn't me at all, that was DARPA!"

      On second thought, maybe it wouldn't be such a good idea.. "So, just who is this Darpa chick? How did she get your credit card?" I'd be in a heap of trouble.

  • energy density (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Colin Smith (2679) on Saturday April 17, 2010 @01:53PM (#31882936)

    Till we all get personal nuclear power stations in our cars, they ain't going to fly. There simply isn't enough energy density in our current fuels to power a flying car safely.

     

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Tablizer (95088)

      Till we all get personal nuclear power stations in our cars, they ain't going to fly. There simply isn't enough energy density in our current fuels to power a flying car safely.

      If they were single-person they may be able to pull it off. Most commuters are individuals anyhow. I've seen an interesting vertical capsule design in which the capsule becomes kind of a semi-horizontal "flying wing" upon flight. This reduces the weight of the wings because the body itself becomes most of the wing. It's more like a f

    • Till we all get personal nuclear power stations in our cars, they ain't going to fly. There simply isn't enough energy density in our current fuels to power a flying car safely.

      You have a very strange definition of safety if putting a nuclear reactor in a flying vehicle owned and operated by random civilians is your idea of "safe." Even a well-contained (aside: heavy) RTG represents a source of dirty bomb material that you want to put out in the public's hands.

      You also have to consider the clean up costs involved in scrapping such a vehicle after its useful life-span is over or it has crashed. Most metal scrapyards won't touch anything that has radioactives. You'd have to set u

      • I do not believe there is cause for alarm! Don't you think "personal nuclear power stations" sounds rather hyperbolic? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperbole [wikipedia.org]

        • by Valdrax (32670)

          I do not believe there is cause for alarm! Don't you think "personal nuclear power stations" sounds rather hyperbolic? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperbole [wikipedia.org]

          Could you offer some sort of counter-argument for why flying nuclear reactors is not a cause for concern? Maybe one that addresses one (or more!) of the points I raised? Or maybe one that quotes something I actually said when accusing me of hyperbole?

          Also, I may make a typo or two, but I do have better than a 6th grade reading level. If you're going to link to something, try something informative and not patronizing.

    • Have you looked at the Terrafugia?

      If above link does not work: http://www.terrafugia.com/ [terrafugia.com]

    • I don't think energy density is really the problem here. All our existing flying machines use chemical fuels and apart from the most exotic ones afaict fuel weight isn't too much of an issue.

      As to the practicality of flying cars it depends what exactly you mean by flying car.

      If you mean something that can land vertically in a relatively small space such that it can be used for end to end travel those already exist, they are called helicopters. The trouble with them is because of the high power to weight rat

  • Dirigibles please (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 17, 2010 @01:54PM (#31882938)

    One of the main problems with the concept of a flying car is that if the engines stop it doesn't just roll to a halt; it falls out of the sky.

    We need to get away from this idea of flying cars as small jet planes and think more about personal blimps. Let's quit trying to fly and start floating.

    Oh and helium is impractical. Bring back hydrogen. Sure it's explosive - but so is the stuff you put in your car! We give up on it because of one infamous accident? Hardly rational.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Culture20 (968837)

      Oh and helium is impractical. Bring back hydrogen. Sure it's explosive - but so is the stuff you put in your car!

      Do you drive a race car? Gasoline/Petrol is not explosive. It's actually pretty safe compared to H2. Fill a bucket with gasoline and throw a lit match in; it douses the match. The vapor is flammable, but the liquid isn't. Using huge volumes of Hydrogen safely in flimsy containers is not a simple undertaking, especially if every Tom Dick and Harry has one.

    • by vertinox (846076)

      One of the main problems with the concept of a flying car is that if the engines stop it doesn't just roll to a halt; it falls out of the sky.

      Considering this would be used in say Iraq or Afghanistan (or say a nearby country in the future *cough*), slow moving low flying dirigibles present easy targets for RPGs and other small arms fire when the vehicle takes off or lands.

      Of course what you're saying still applies to the current aircraft they use out in the field now which do tend to fall out of the sky.

      Not

  • by cmholm (69081) <cmholm AT mauiholm DOT org> on Saturday April 17, 2010 @01:57PM (#31882972) Homepage Journal

    Unless someone develops a low energy input, low mass anti-gravity mechanism, flying cars are never going to be commonplace, merely niche vehicles.

    The why should be obvious: it takes a lot of energy to get one in the air. Even standard small prop aircraft gets middling mileage [cessna150152.com], and earns points only by its ability to fly in a straight line. However, it needs a lot of room for take off and landing.

    Hence, a practical flying car needs to be VTOL, which is by its nature very energy inefficient.

    • by Macka (9388)

      Not to mention a VTOL car would be very noisy and incredibly messy, what with its air displacement chucking dirt, stones, grit and leaves all over the place. Maybe in a couple of thousand years technology will have solutions to these problems, but right now every day family flying cars are pure science fiction: and actually, that's kind of nice.

      • We have the solution already, for the space shuttle. You dig a pit in the corner of your parking lot and put a grating over it. VTOLS taxi over to the take-off pit and.. take off. You might be able to get away with just ducting the exhaust, or you may require evac fans to activate for each take-off depending on your location.

    • by samkass (174571)

      Even standard small prop aircraft gets middling mileage, and earns points only by its ability to fly in a straight line.

      So you're comparing a plane designed 40-50 years ago with a brand new invention? Put a good diesel engine (that can burn Jet A) and clean up the aerodynamics and you'll be far more efficient AND remove the lead from the fuel. Of course, super-clean-flying planes are somewhat harder for a new pilot to handle since it's harder to bleed off speed on landing. While I agree it's probably imp

    • by gmuslera (3436)
      So basically for getting flying cars we need MrFusion, antigrav technology that could be used from vehicles ranging from big trucks to hoverboards, and last but not least, time machines on DeLoreans already developed in the 80's by crazy scientists. All of that existed, then all that universe got rebooted after someone bumped accidentally against himself, and unfortunatelly this new universe lack the required capabilities.

      Anyway, don't lose hope. Maybe there is another kind of backdoor (as the time travel o
    • The army doesn't care, this vehicle would get rid of the threat of roadside bombs, which are the most deadly weapon Al Qaeda commonly uses right now. It's easy to see why the army would like it.
    • by vertinox (846076)

      Putting all that extra armor on Humvees is also quite an energy hog as well.

      But we're talking about an organization that has can drop $2 million dollar object on enemy sniper sitting in a bush with a 25 year old rifle and not really be too concerned about its next quarter profits.

    • by Locklin (1074657)

      Something like the challenger ultralight [challenger.ca] can fly two people for about $10/h at up to nearly 100mph. It costs around the same as a decent car and can take off and land on relatively short strips of tarmac, grass, snow or water. Of course, fabric wrapped over aluminium tubing is going to leave something to be desired when it comes to crash-tests. Cars are heavy because they smash into each other a lot. That problem needs to be solved before cars can take to the air.

    • by master_p (608214)

      Unfortunately, there seems to be no progress on the work done by DeMatos and Tajmar.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by knutkracker (1089397)
      A fuel-efficient prop-driven VTOL looks something like the Cartercopter [cartercopters.com]. Basically a plane-autogyro hybrid so you get the fuel efficiency and speed of a plane along with (almost) vertical takeoff.

      The rotor gets spun up to high revs with heavy counterweights at either end whilst on the ground, then the power is disconnected and transferred to the rear propellor. Increasing the collective sharply on the main rotor causes a jump takeoff and the rotor acts as a wing at cruising speed. Neat!

      When the techn
  • "You're more likely to die in a car accident than while flying"...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Locke2005 (849178)
      Wait... if it's a flying car, does it count as both a "car accident" AND a "while flying" accident? In which case, the adage doesn't change.
  • I haven't... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Valdrax (32670) on Saturday April 17, 2010 @02:05PM (#31883030)

    OK, we've all whined about the fact that we are now firmly entrenched in the 21st Century and no flying cars.

    No, I'm pretty sure I consider that to be a feature and not a bug in our technological progress. Movement in three dimensions is a waste of fuel for most tasks, and a humongous safety hazard in the hands of most drivers as well as in the case of engineering failure.

    I don't want flying cars; I want cars that can drive themselves more safely than people can. That's my SF car of the future.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ColdWetDog (752185)
      I bet your a lot of fun at parties.
      • A car that drives its self means no more designated drivers or having to wait to sober up before going home. It means the party can continue all the way home. ...If you know what I mean.

        A flying car is just a waste of fuel & money that could be better spent on booze. :P

  • ...pulled this off four or five decades ago! [tomswift.info] In Asia as I recall.

    Inventors these days just don't cut the mustard!
  • So I can now get stuck behind seniors who are FLYING.
  • Let's give DARPA a real challenge!
  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday April 17, 2010 @02:44PM (#31883244) Homepage

    There's no fundamental problem in building a modest-size VTOL craft. Many have been built. The fuel consumption and cost will be high, but for the military, that's OK.

    The big problem back in the 1950s was stability. Now that unstable aircraft are routinely computer-stabilized, that's far less of a problem. It's going to need a jet engine. Piston engines don't have the power to weight ratio needed. That's what runs up the cost. A basic problem with jet engines is that they don't get much cheaper below small bizjet size. That's why general aviation is still piston-powered, despite Williams, etc.

    It's not going to be a pure-thrust VTOL, like the Harrier. That takes so much engine power that it's only feasible for fighters, which are mostly engine anyway. Ducted fans, maybe. Successful ducted-fan aircraft [wikipedia.org] have been built, and with modern stabilization, there are several robotic ducted-fan craft. With better stablization, the fans can be pulled in closer to the body, making for a much more compact craft.

    There's a new Israeli ducted-fan craft, the AirMule [aviationweek.com], which is currently in early flight test and can hover tethered.

    A big problem with single-engine VTOL aircraft is that they fall like a rock if they lose engine power. Aircraft can glide and helicopters can autorotate, but VTOLs can do neither. Ejection seats are indicated.

  • I don't know about you, but I don't ever want to see flying cars. Most people can barely figure out how to safely operate a wheeled car in two dimensions. Imagine how nuts it would be if we added a third.

  • Lighter than air dirigibles are clearly a superior technology, with all the necessary engineering to free us from our reliance on grounded transportation. Zeppelin technology can be safe, efficient, cheap, and reliable in most of the world (barring extremely windy climates). The problem isn't technology. The problem is economic interests who promote the status quo. Just like in most of the issues facing American society.
     

  • So I can get t-boned by a drunk from two more directions? No thanks. Drivers have enough problems dealing with two dimensions. Auto-pilot will take a few more years to perfect, right?

  • Something to avoid the traffic on the 405, and 91 Freeways? DARPA now, has my complete attention. Maybe they could use some more funding?
  • by prefec2 (875483) on Saturday April 17, 2010 @03:48PM (#31883556)

    Cars are expensive to build (in matter of resources). Cars are not very energy efficient only a fraction of the energy is used for motion the rest converted into heat. Furthermore a cars weight is approx 1.5 t to 2 t (1500-2000kg) and these 1500 kg are used to move around 80-150 kg. On top of that, the average speed of a car in a city is 15-25 km/h (depends on the study) which also achievable with a bike. Furthermore cars tend to stay unused most of their time. For example people drive to their job in the morning 1-2 hours and the same time back, which accumulates to 4 hours. And the other 20 hours a day they are parked somewhere. Most people have a garage at home for the car and at work there is also a parking lot and you need a lot of roads for them. This results in an average use of land area in a city of 50% for cars. The rest is for parks, houses, railroads, planes etc.

    As we are going to run out of resources (oil, lithium, copper, and many more) it might be sensible to develop a more resource efficient people mover and if possible a way to reduce the need of using public transportation systems. For example: Many bankers and traders use their car to get to the city then they use an elevator to get to their office. While the boss is on level 12 the other are on level 10 and normally they do not see each other in person for days. Instead they use this awkward piece of equipment called phone to communicate. So why have all these people to use any transportation device to get from the suburbs to the city center when they easily could just stay there and work in distributed offices just together with their coworkers. And definitely outside the city center. And they could still talk to the boss on phone. Ok nobody would need bank towers anymore. But think of it. No bank towers no fear from terrorists in planes.

    But instead of being reasonable we build flying cars for the troops. So they can fight abroad for ... what was it again? Never mind.

  • The public view of a 'flying car' is what George Jetson drove, Korben Dallas's taxi or the Doc's Delorean after its hover-conversion. Until you have anti-gravity technology you ain't got no flying car in the public's books - You just have another version of an aircraft.
  • by rrohbeck (944847)

    They're supposed to be autonomous or remote controlled. Let's put 1,000 lbs worth of guns and ammo on them and control them with a central supercomputer. Then it can do all the warfighting without risking humans.

  • The military tried to develop "flying jeeps" back in the late 40s/50s but disappointing results made them give up on the idea. The most advanced prototype was the Avrocar [wikipedia.org], produced by Canadian company.

    The Avrocar revealed the basic problem with flying cars - you can't easily make something which is controllable and manoeuvrable at low speeds which is essential for personal aircraft. You need to be able to drive it similarly to a car, just up in the air rather than on a road, and even with modern fly-by-wire

  • I'd rather see a personal flight suit a la Iron Man or Starship Troopers. Maybe a ballbearing surrounded cockpit whose external walls revolve around you. That would make landing less dicey. Make it engine-assisted pedal power if it's just a flying bicycle. If you want an Iron Man suit or something larger (the suit Jeff Bridges wore was more Starship Troopers sized), the problem right now is power supply. And even if you could somehow wirelessly provide power like Atlantis or Tesla, the weight of the pr

  • Flying cars are supposed to hover silently using some sort of technology which is compact enough to also fit in skateboard. Duh.

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