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Images: AAIAAI has received a $3.05 million contract for Phase 1 of DARPA's Transformer Vehicle (TX) program to demonstrate a "fly-drive" tactical vehicle. Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works is also expected to receive a contract.DARPA wants a four-seat vehicle that will drive like an SUV, but avoid IEDs, rivers and other hazards and obstacles by converting rapidly to an aircraft, taking off vertically, cruising like a light aircraft and landing vertically - with the takeoff and landing automated so the driver does not have to be trained as a pilot.AAI's design is based on the slowed-rotor/compound (SR/C) helicopter technology being developed jointly with Cartercopter. SR/C is essentially an autogyro in which the rotor can be slowed as forward speed increases, offloading lift to the wing to allow the vehicle to fly faster than a conventional helicopter.In AAI's concept, the TX converts from vehicle to aircraft by raising the rotor mast, unfolding the blades and deploying the wing. The turboprop engine spools up the high-inertia rotor for a jump takeoff then drives a ducted propulsor for forward flight. Thrust deflectors, stabilators and ailerons provide flight control. On the ground, the turboprop generates electricity to drive in-wheel motors.Takeoff and landing would be automated, using AAI's unmanned-aircraft experience. In the cruise, the driver would use the wheel, pedals and gear lever to follow "highway-in-the-sky" guidance cues.AAI's team includes flying-car developer Terrafugia, Textron sister company Bell helicopter, Cartercopter and Textron Marine & Land Systems, which has experience developing lightweight armored vehicles.
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