This January, a military tech outfit called Advanced Tactics said they'd build a truck-helicopter hybrid that could fly just as easily as it could motor down the highway. "Never work," you say? Well, hold on to your brainballs because this mo' fucking trucklocopter just went for its first flight.
What the hell is this thing?
Besides a dystopian-future rendition of one of those Leonardo Da Vinci sketches? Well, it's called the Black Knight Transformer, and it's an "autonomous multicopter" that can be programmed to carry things into or out of places people don't want to be.
It's also the up-sized version of the remote-control "Panther Transformer"— a hot-dog shaped toy truck with tiny rotors that could, well, drive and fly.
The idea has always been to deliver things to places to those few places that required both air and ground travel (maybe a cave on an island?) Advanced Tactics was so happy with the way the miniature came out, they went ahead and pulled the trigger on a big version.
How does it work?
Each prop-rotor is directly connected to its own engine. In the air, the Black Knight is steered by changing how much thrust comes out of opposing rotors. Like, give it more gas on one side to make it go one way, get it?
The design dispenses with the need for tilting rotors (expensive and complex) or wings (vulnerable to attack and makes vertical takeoff impossible.) If an engine goes down, the Knight can compensate with other motors and get itself home.
On the ground, rotors tuck in and the vehicle slims down to about eight feet wide. That's a little bigger than a military Hummer. The trucklocopter has shocks and a drivetrain just like an off-road truck. The large tires and long-travel suspension make landing a little softer as well.
Advanced Tactics says all the parts are "low-cost commercially available" and that the entire vehicle is modular for easy repair.
What's it for?
Didn't we already go over this? It goes where only a thing that can fly and drive could get to. You know what, I'll just let Advanced Tactics explain it with their own narrative:
Imagine a situation where a soldier has been wounded on the front lines in an urban firefight – he's being protected by the rest of his squad but he needs to be evacuated immediately or he will die. A nearby base is notified of the casualty and dispatches an AT Black Knight Transformer vehicle to evacuate him. The vehicle autonomously takes off and heads toward the front lines, 20 miles away. The squad is deep in the city and there are no safe landing zones within a half mile radius. Two members of the squad designate a safe landing zone in an open courtyard and wait for the vehicle there.
Once it arrives, it lands and the two soldiers climb inside. The flight engines are stowed and the vehicle enters driving mode. It is manually driven through the narrow streets to the casualty, who is quickly loaded onboard and connected to life support equipment. The vehicle is driven back to the courtyard where it takes off. Several minutes later the wounded soldier arrives at the base where he can be given full medical treatment within the "Golden Hour" after injury. The Black Knight Transformer's unique air and ground ingress and egress options dramatically reduced the time needed to evacuate the casualty and his life was saved without risking a flight crew or the need for a ground transport.
How big is it?
Pretty damn big, here it is next to a Ford F-350 SuperCrew. The interior is comparable to that of a Blackhawk helicopter. If you've never been in one of those, the spots with windows and a little behind are where things can fit:
What kind of capability are we talking about here?
As a truck, the Black Knight is good for up to 70 MPH. In the air it tops out at 130 knots, which is about 150 MPH in groundspeed.
With a stick-on aerodynamics kit that makes the thing a little more streamlined and the standard turbo diesel truck engine, the Black Knight is supposed to be able to carry up to 1,000 pounds of whatever 250 nautical miles. That's about 290 "regular" miles. With the ground-engine removed, the vehicle gets an extra 600 pounds of carrying-capacity.
Any other party tricks?
As with most military tech, modularity is the name of the game. The troops sure love mixing, matching, and swapping parts on a whim.
Each of the Knight's eight engines can be replaced "in the field" by two people. The cargo area can be re-configured quickly to act as a bus, ambulance, or cargo hauler.
Not enough? The truck parts (wheels and engine) can be left off completely or exchanged for a hull and propeller to make a boatlocopter, bitches.
Where can I buy one of these bad boys?
Advanced Tactics isn't quite ready to sell these frankentrucks per se, they just need some willing investors like yourselves to fork over a couple million to get the assembly line up and running and then they'll ship one your way in no time.
If you're not willing to make that kind of a commitment, the miniature version is ready for you to pick up wherever high-tech war machines are sold.