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AT Black Knight Transformer takes to the air for the first time

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April 11, 2014

The AT Black Knight Transformer during its first flight demonstrating a stable and control...

The AT Black Knight Transformer during its first flight demonstrating a stable and controlled hover

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Following on from driving tests that wound up in December last year, the Black Knight Transformer prototype demonstrator has taken to the air for the first time. California-based Advanced Tactics, Inc., announced its vehicle, which combines the capabilities of a helicopter and an off-road vehicle, completed its first flight tests last month, being remotely piloted at an undisclosed location in Southern California.

During the test flights, the vehicle's stability and attitude were handled by the autopilot, with the ground-based human pilot only responsible for increasing or decreasing power. Although it is designed to hover at altitudes of up to 10,000 ft (3,050 m), for safety purposes altitude was limited to less than 10 ft (3 m), with outrigger landing gear attached to prevent it rolling over in the event of any mishaps. There was also an electrical cable attached to the underside of the vehicle that provided emergency shutdown capability. Turns out these precautions weren't required, with Advanced Tactics reporting the aircraft was stable, controllable, and performed as expected.

Similar to the aircraft being pursued by DARPA's Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System (ARES) program, the Black Knight is designed specifically for autonomous casualty evacuation and unmanned cargo resupply missions. While it can be flown by an onboard pilot, its unmanned capabilities are intended to keep pilots out of harm's way on dangerous missions.

The Black Knight Transformer during its first flight

The vehicle boasts eight rotors, with a high-speed computerized feedback control system managing the differential thrust between opposing sets of prop-rotors to provide stability and control. This is similar to the approach employed by small electric multicopters, with the company saying this approach is mechanically simpler and cheaper than employing an articulated rotor system like that found on conventional helicopters. This also eliminates the need for a tail-rotor or engine transmission.

To strengthen its suitability for military cargo resupply missions, the vehicle's design provides it with a large interior volume relative to its overall footprint. The company says this feature also makes it suitable for civil missions, such as package delivery and fire-fighting. Measuring 31 x 19 x 8 ft (9.5 x 5.8 x 2.5 m)(L x W x H) in flight configuration, the prototype demonstrator weighs 4,400 lb (1,995 kg).

The AT Black Knight Transformer has a large interior volume similar to that of a BlackHawk...

On the ground, it can reach speeds of 70 mph (112 km/h) traveling on suspension and a drivetrain similar to those found in off-road trucks. As well as smoothing out the ride on rough terrain, the large truck tires and shocks also help soften the vehicle's landings. The modular automobile portion of the vehicle is also designed to be removed to allow for additional payload capacity, or swapped out for a boat hull or amphibious hull for water operations.

Advanced Tactics says that the successful first flight test of the Black Knight Transformer will pave the way for other future modular and roadable vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft. The company has been working on the smaller AT Panther Transformer, a "low-cost vehicle" that carries two passengers and their gear and is designed for Special Operations missions. It is also developing a modular, cargo carrying aircraft that would carry 3,500-lb (1,590-kg) payloads in detachable cargo pods. The company is currently seeking investors and pursuing US and other government commercial opportunities.

Source: Advanced Tactics, Inc.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
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9 Comments

I think this concept is brilliant. What amazing potential! It may be perhaps, a bit vulnerable, what with the power-plants on the outriggers & exposed to hostile weaponry. (Not unlike most flying vehicles, tho.)

IMO, it would have advantages to centralize the power source as a turbine electric generator, and wire up electric motors for the six props. Reliable, lighter weight (?), still some level of redundancy, and you can power the wheels similarly from the same source. Then the idea of armoring around that power source could be more conveniently considered. Putting protection around each of six I/C engines adds up quick in terms of weight and practicality.

Awesome progress, tho, and looking forward to seeing how this one comes thru!

MzunguMkubwa
11th April, 2014 @ 04:56 am PDT

I think it would be great for getting relief supplies where road access is limited (if any at all) and there is no place for a plane to land.

I think it would also be cool as a flying camper. :)

BigWarpGuy
11th April, 2014 @ 06:12 am PDT

This would be great for my back yard, I could drive the neighbor crazy, buzzing in and out with it. It's great, it looks like a flying bus, It's so ugly it's beautiful.

Jay Finke
11th April, 2014 @ 10:27 am PDT

How does being an off road car improve a helicopter enough to be worth the cost?

Slowburn
11th April, 2014 @ 02:12 pm PDT

Helicarrier Mark 0.001 ?

Gregg Eshelman
12th April, 2014 @ 12:40 am PDT

It seems like you could probably adopt this to a design like the CH-54 (http://i.imgur.com/2JZ0po6.jpg) pretty easy so that it could move containers around.

I wonder how hard it would be to design it with electric motors on the propellers and have an onboard engine provide electricity of direct power? The reason for that seems obvious enough as you could run on just battery for short periods of time (stealth) but the onboard engine(s) would serve to provide conventional range and refueling.

I think this is how the Chevy Volt is powered. It probably wouldn't be that hard to make a small scale proof of concept.

Daishi
12th April, 2014 @ 08:47 am PDT

It would seem that small turbine engines might be better. It's also going to take a lot of fuel for eight engines running near full power to fly 250 nautical miles with a load. Larger diameter propellers would help immensely. The noise must be terrific.

Bob
12th April, 2014 @ 10:34 am PDT

Theoretically this would be able to use much less energy on the ground and travel and refuel in isolated areas much more inconspicuously than a helicopter. You might not be able to drive up to and Iranian gas station without raising eyebrows but driving to a remote warehouse to hide and fuel up would be an option, as would landing to avoid radar, driving to a location, meet with others, throw together an outpost and drive away to a safe distance so as to take off. You could set up a temporary town at short notice if you had enough of these whereas having lots of helicopters descending on a single location in a short time period would be dangerous.

Snake Oil Baron
12th April, 2014 @ 12:18 pm PDT

Flying cars are an absolutely terrible idea! Just think of all the car accidents we have now and then imagine if those things were flying. Bleh!

BethBy
29th April, 2014 @ 09:41 am PDT
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