On April 10, an aerospace company out of El Segundo, CA announced that it had successfully achieved the first test flight of the Black Knight Transformer, a vehicle with the capabilities of both a helicopter and an off-road truck. Advanced Tactics began designing the “multicopter” in 2010 through funding from the US Congress for viable solutions for medical evacuation in wartime situations.
Termed as the first VTOL, or vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, the Transformer completed necessary driving tests in December of last year and its flight test was held at a private location in Southern California with a remotely piloted safety precaution, meaning that a human was in charge of power but that the stability and altitude of the Transformer was controlled by autopilot.
The multicopter design utilizes engines with direct drive connection to prop-rotors, reducing the mechanical complexity of an articulated system in favor of high-speed computerized feedback control, which also negates the requirement of a tail-rotor and engine transmission. As a truck, the shocks provide handling over rough terrain and are driven by an independent engine and transaxle that make it capable of speeds of up to 70 miles per hour. In addition, this modular portion can be removed for increased payload or replaced with an amphibious hull for water operations.
The company Advanced Tactics was founded in 2007 with a desire to achieve military contracts through developing next-generation solutions to land, air, sea, and even space-based challenges. The program for the Transformer was funded by a congressional earmark in 2009 and managed by the Advanced Technology Research Center and US Army Telemedicine. The purpose was to specifically create a vehicle for medical and casualty evacuation with unmanned ground and air transportation capabilities, and so Advanced Tactics began work on the Transformer for autonomous missions that included manned and unmanned cargo resupply.
The interior volume of the vehicle is comparable to a Blackhawk helicopter, and with an extended span of 31 feet, it is best in situations without landing zones. Hovering in at 19 feet wide and only 8 feet tall, it will be manufactured with turbo diesel engines capable of flying with about a 300 mile range at 150 miles per hour and a maximum takeoff weight of 4,400 pounds.
In 2012, Advanced Tactics began developing the Panther Transformer with the same technology on a smaller scale. At 23 feet long, its creation is being sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, for use during Special Operations missions in which it will carry two passengers and their gear and be transportable to the battlefield in a CV-22 Osprey cargo hold.
According to the Chief Engineer at AT, Rustom Jehangir, the US Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory is interested in using the Black Knight Transformer for unmanned missions, but far beyond the military scope, these machines are going to revolutionize the safety of US citizens at home. Though it is a secondary concept that these multicopters be constructed for civil use, the possibilities within the fields of fire-fighting and ambulance transportation are astonishing.
First responders after the Washington State mudslide reported hearing the cries of people just beyond reach, but in the future, technology like this may be the difference in search and rescue missions between being able to move forward into a disaster zone effectively versus having to turn away for lack of options. Hospital trauma centers are equipped with helipads for what is known as the golden hour, during which a patient’s survival is greatest if they receive medical attention. Unmanned vehicles can hover around property fires in which the loss of fire-fighters is unnecessary, and EMTs will no longer have to deal with traffic on the way to the scene of an accident if they can simply fly over it. With the test flight of the Black Knight Transformer, a turning point in life-saving technology has been reached and if the human imagination can expand with it, the world will slowly change for the better.
By Elijah Stephens
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