Lockheed Martin Skunk Works' Transformer TX started out as yet another design for the oft-predicted but never delivered flying car. But it's since turned into an entirely different type of flying machine: an autonomous way for the military to airlift vehicles and cargo to dangerous areas.
The Transformer TX is a DARPA-funded project that was originally going to be a more traditional flying car that could easily traverse even the worst conditions by just taking to the air. But flying car proposals have a sordid past, and like past designs the Transformer TX was scrapped in favour of turning it into an autonomous drone-like craft that could deliver payloads like cargo containers or vehicles. Unlike the military helicopters that are currently used for this purpose, no pilots would be lost if one were shot down.
And unlike all the flying car designs that have come before it, the Transformer TX is actually being built by Lockheed Martin and Piasacki Aircraft and is expected to begin flight testing as early as 2015. If all goes well, the final version, which will use a pair of pivoting ducted fans to take off vertically and then fly to a drop-off zone, will boast range of 400km and a top speed of 200 knots, even when ladened with cargo. And thanks to a footprint much smaller than a helicopter, the Transformer TX could realise the flying car dream we've all had for decades now. [Lockheed Martin via IEEE Spectrum]
Pictures: Evan Ackerman/IEEE Spectrum