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A flying Humvee? Don't scoff, Pentagon wants one

Pratt & Whitney's Rocketdyne division in Canoga Park is awarded $1 million to design a propulsion system for the airborne vehicle.

October 20, 2010|By W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times

With its armored doors and bulletproof windows, the burly Humvee has been a stalwart ground transport for the U.S. military.

But now the Pentagon thinks the hulking vehicle should also be able to fly.

On Tuesday, Pratt & Whitney's Rocketdyne division in Canoga Park announced that it had been awarded $1 million to design a propulsion system for a flying Humvee.

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.

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.

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 eventually picks. Also, it would be robotic, meaning 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.

In addition to Claflin's company, the agency has selected five others to work on the Transformer program in its 12-month, $9-million development phase. AAI Corp. of Hunt Valley, Md., and Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Md., the nation's largest defense firm, are listed as the program's prime contractors.

"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. "There has never been an engine built like this before."

william.hennigan@latimes.com

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