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Real Transformers in the works

Flying Humvee

The Transformers may be gone from Washington -- but not forgotten. And now two Maryland companies are involved in a program to bring one to real life.

On Tuesday, Pratt & Whitney's Rocketdyne division in Los Angeles announced it had been awarded $1 million to design a propulsion system for a flying Humvee. AAI Corp. of Hunt Valley, Md., and Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, the nation's largest defense company, are listed as the program's prime contractors.

Dubbed the Transformer, the vehicle -- at least an artist's rendering of it -- looks like a toy commando truck out of a "G.I. Joe" cartoon.

Don't scoff -- there is good reason for an airborne truck, defense officials say.

With the proliferation of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, on the ground, a hovering Humvee would be an ideal way to keep soldiers out of harm's way, Pentagon officials said in announcing the award.

But according to the Pentagon's technical specs, it would "combine the advantages of ground vehicles and helicopters into a single vehicle equipped with flexibility of movement."

The Transformer would have folding wings that pop out from the side of the vehicle and helicopter-like rotor blades attached to either the roof or the wings, depending on which design the Pentagon picks. Also, it would be robotic, so there would be no pilot or driver behind the wheel.

The hybrid craft is being spearheaded by the Pentagon's famed Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, which has been behind projects that have either turned out to be revolutionary, such as the Internet and stealth technology, or just boneheaded, like developing telepathic spies and jungle-tromping robotic elephants.

The research agency said the flying Humvee should be able to haul around 1,000 pounds while traveling a distance of 287 miles on a tankful of fuel. It's a tall task considering that the ground-only version gets 14 miles per gallon at best, said Scott Claflin, director of Power Innovations at Pratt & Whitney's Rocketdyne, a subsidiary of United Technologies Corp.

"We're excited to work on the program," said Claflin, who will lead a team of about a dozen engineers who previously worked on rocket engines that lifted men into space. The program will go through a 12-month $9 million development phrase. "There has never been an engine built like this before."

-- McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

By Michael Bolden  | October 20, 2010; 8:02 AM ET
Categories:  Transportation News  
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