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DARPA wants a flying car

The Pentagon division is looking for someone to build a flying four-person vehicle that travels by road and air and takes off without a runway.

A flying military vehicle that would not meet DARPA requirements. (The Humvee is being carried by a Boeing Osprey in its development stage.) Boeing

The Pentagon is looking for a few good flying machines.

The U.S. Department of Defense, in the form of its DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) division, is calling on the research community to create a flying vehicle that can travel both by land and air, lift off without a runway, carry up to four personnel, and handle itself in the battlefield.

With land vehicles vulnerable to ambushes, attacks, and explosives, the objective of the program known as Transformer is to provide soldiers with a vehicle that can travel freely in the air to avoid problems on the ground. Such a vehicle would be used in combat for raids, reconnaissance, insurgency/counterinsurgency, and other types of missions. It would also be deployed to evacuate the wounded and deliver supplies, according to DARPA's solicitation.

Additionally, DARPA is looking for something with VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing), meaning it can lift off like a helicopter requiring no runaway, and reach altitudes as high as 10,000 feet. But to traverse rough road conditions when on the ground, the agency wants the vehicle to handle like an SUV with at least four wheels for stability and heavy-duty suspension. And like the rest of us, it wants a car that's fuel-efficient--able to run for 250 miles on a single tank of gas.

To kick off the project, DARPA had held a free Proposer's Day workshop this past January to which it invited interested organizations to learn about the Transformer project.

Once the right companies respond with proposals to build the vehicle, DARPA plans to handle the project in three separate phases, each time whittling down the list of potential candidates before it decides on the winning proposal. Companies will be required to develop the vehicle at a reasonable cost, identify the technologies needed to create the vehicle, and finally build a prototype capable of performing both ground and flight tests.

How much will development of the flying vehicle cost us? So far, the Pentagon has budgeted $54 million dollars, with $9 million to be spent in phase I, $10 million in phase 2, and $35 million in phase 3.

Certainly, the flying car isn't a new concept. A variety of developers have tried to build their way into this unique market. Last year, a company called Terrafugia gave flight to its Transition vehicle. But the Transition requires a runway to take off, which keeps it off the Pentagon's wish list. Other companies and even ordinary individuals have created and demoed their own flying cars, but so far this mode of transportation hasn't yet taken off the ground, so to speak.

On its end, DARPA is hoping to have its first flying vehicles in the air by 2015.

Thanks to Wired for first bringing this story to our attention.