Flying Motorcycles for U.S. military
Remember those speeder bikes in Star Wars that race through the air? Soldiers and Marines may get to zoom around the battlespace on a sort of real life version in the not so distant future.
The new vehicle has been dubbed the Joint Tactical Reconnaissance Vehicle, or JTARV. Malloy Aeronautics and SURVICE Engineering Company teamed up to further develop Malloy’s Hoverbike for the U.S. Army Research Laboratory.
Why the interest in a speeder-bike like capability for American ground forces?
The U.S. mllitary believes it could possibly carry teams rapidly and nimbly throughout the battlespace, A robotic version could also be used to deliver supplies by itself.
This flying motorcycle could provide three options: it could be flown by a warfighter, it could fly itself around using advanced autonomy or a mix would be employed where a warfighter flies it and lets the smart vehicle do some of its own flying as well as required.
What is it?
The Hoverbike started in a garage in Sydney, Australia. New Zealander Chris Malloy began working on it as a hobby, but it rapidly gained traction commercially.
Most of the original Hoverbike frame was handcrafted from Kevlar, carbon fiber and aluminum with a foam core.
The design is similar to a quadcopter. It has four standard helicopter style “shrouded” rotors and they overlap with each other and help provide stability.
The full sized Hoverbike will harness a motorcycle engine and controls. It could ultimately be as large as a small car. The current mini prototype is operated in a way more similar to a hobbyist quadcopter. The smaller version uses electric motors and a standard RC helicopter controller can be used to direct it.
The Hoverbike has entered its third generation of development. For enhanced reliability and survivability, this generation has multi-engine redundancy and special yaw control in addition to other advances.
The chassis is adaptable so it can be quickly reconfigured for specific missions.
Speeder Bikes with Smarts
There is a fully autonomous option – so this is one real life speeder bike that can fly itself. The high level of autonomy also means that training to ride it should be relatively easy. It can be adjusted to vary how much input the pilot would like to give – basically it calibrates to how much autopilot a warfighter would like to use.
Picture Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia battling it out in that iconic chase scene in Star Wars Return of the Jedi while on the stolen speeder bike.
US military Hoverbikes could be programmed with easy waypoint-to-waypoint navigation and fly itself between points and could eventually avoid obstacles on its own.
So in this Star Wars scenario, Luke and Leia had to fly their speeder bikes and navigate throughout a forest while returning fire. But American warfighters could let the Hoverbike do the work for them and instead focus on returning fire.
Hoverbikes in war
It has also been designed to be stealthy in a number of ways.
Since it flies through the air, rather than drives on the ground, it has a very small physical footprint. The operating envelope is below the radar. For a reduced acoustic signature, its been designed to minimize propeller tip noise from the shrouded fans.
Since it doesn’t require runways or traditional landing zones, it provides a lot of flexibility in that regard too.
The full-sized prototype could potentially travel at speeds of approximately 100 mph. One tank of gas could yield about 45 minutes of transport.
Rectangular-shaped, the prototype is expected to be large enough to carry up to 300 pounds of supplies or a warfighter with body armor and equipment. With that weight, it can currently travel about 10 miles before refueling.
In firefights, ammunition can run low quickly and resupply is incredibly important and time sensitive. Currently, helicopters can be used to drop off these urgent supplies, but in the future a JTARV could zoom out instead.
Ultimately, there are hopes that it could reach and resupply anywhere in the battlepace within 30 minutes.
Cattle, commuter traffic and beyond
How could the Hoverbike be used in the civilian world?
In addition to fun, it could be used for farming or managing cattle as just two commercial applications. It could even become a vehicle of choice to get to work and avoid that commuter traffic. Once testing is completed, the company plans to submit the prototype for certification with aviation authorities for use in civilian airspace.
The latest full sized prototype is completing construction and will begin flight tests in a few months.