Pentagon Chooses Two Companies to Build Flying Humvee

The race to build the world's first flying military jeep just moved astep closer to the finish line. The Pentagon's Defense AdvancedResearch Projects Agency (DARPA) has selected two companies to proceedwith the next stage of its Transformer, known as TX.

A fully automatedfour-person vehicle that can drive like a car and then take off and flylike an aircraft to avoid roadside bombs. Lockheed Martin and AAICorp., a unit of Textron Systems, are currently in negotiations withDARPA for the first stage of the Transformer project, several industrysources told Popular Mechanics at a robotics conference here in Denver.DARPA has not announced the official winners yet.

It's unclear how many companies competed for the DARPA project, but thecompetition brought together an unusual mix of large defense companieswith smaller aviation firms vying to build the vertical takeoff andlanding craft. Perhaps most surprising—and for some competitorsgalling— is that DARPA selected a rotor-based aircraft for one of thetwo winning submissions. At an industry day held earlier this year,DARPA officials had initially said they weren't interested in atraditional rotary-wing aircraft, though they might consider a vehicleif the rotor was shrouded.

AAI's winning concept does not have a shrouded rotor, but it is alsofar from being a traditional helicopter. The company, which producesthe Shadow unmanned aerial vehicle, is basing its proposal in part onthe slowed-rotor/compound concept, a technology that uses rotor bladesheavily weighted in the tips, or high inertia. The rotor provides lifton takeoff, and then as it gains speed, the rotor slows down and thewings provide lift.

Lockheed Martin has declined to detail any aspect of its submission,but those familiar with the Phantom Works project speculated that itmight combine aspects of the company's Joint Tactical Light Vehicle, afollow-on to the Humvee, with a ducted fan propulsion system that itwould use to fly.

The two companies are still a ways away from building flying Humvees;the first stage of the DARPA project is merely working on conceptualdesigns. The total funding available for Transformer is about $40million.
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