The Star Wars-esque imagery of soldiers zipping through the forest on speeder bikes may soon become a reality- the US Army is currently testing a “hoverbike” prototype to transport equipment and soldiers across the battlefield.
Known as the Joint Tactical Aerial Resupply Vehicle (JTARV), the giant quadcopter was demonstrated at Aberdeen Proving Ground, during a visit by DoD officials last week.
Strategic Capabilities Office director Dr. William Roper -who is particularly well-versed in unmanned vehicles– visited Aberdeen on January 10 to check out the hoverbike, which can carry a payload of around 286 pounds, including a human being.
Focused on adapting technologies that can be improved upon, Roper told officials that he would like to figure out how to “see something that’s coming on the shelf, immediately identify the use, determine if it’s good enough for rock and roll, get it into the field, but in way that allows us to keep one-upping it.”
The Army laboratory entered into a contract and quickly moved from concept to full-scale prototypes after they discovered the manufacturer, Malloy Aeronautics, and a systems integrator, SURVICE.
Researches responded with future concepts based off the hoverbike, including models of JTARVs that could fly just as comfortably along ground level as they could in the air, reaching speeds over 60 MPH.
The idea pushing the demand for JTARVs is one of the most practical -albeit boring- facets of warfare- logistics. While excessive manpower, equipment and risk to human life is involved in conventional troop resupply methods, the JTARV could theoretically “cut out the middleman” by removing the “man” altogether, zipping ammunition, aid and other supplies to troops on the furthest point of the frontlines.
“Anywhere on the battlefield, Soldiers can potentially get resupplied in less than 30 minutes,” said Tim Vong, associate chief of the Army Research Laboratory’s Protection Division. “Amazon on the battlefield. We want to have options like that.”
According to the US Army, Vong said that the researchers are considering a hybrid propulsion system to increase range and payload, as well as a more stable platform that could possibly be entrusted for more “human” missions, such as casualty removal or special operations missions.
“We’re exploring increasing payload capacity to 800 pounds and extending the range up to 125 miles,” Vong said. “We’re also looking to integrate advanced intelligent navigation and mission planning. We’re looking to end up with a modular, stable platform that can be used for even more dynamic and challenging missions.”
JTARV is a joint-venture between the US Army and Marine Corps, though US Army researchers are leading the way on the bulk of the project due to their extensive experience on aeromechanics, intelligence, analysis, propulsion and other matters. While the two branches are the primary stakeholders on the project, they have help from other agencies and industrial entities. In addition, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) is stepping into the project to assist in the project.
All in all, the tests -and more importantly, the demonstrations- were deemed successful.
“I think the visit was a great success,” Vong said. “It gave us an opportunity to showcase to Dr. Roper ideas and also the progress we’ve been making in exploiting commercial [Unmanned] technologies.”
While the modern “hoverbike” is something out of science fiction, it is certainly not a new concept- the US Army and ONR tested a hovering platform in the late 1950s known as the Hiller VZ-1 Pawnee.
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