The U.S. Army’s Hoverbike Takes to the Air

The electric quadcopter prototype can haul up to 300 pounds and could be used to deliver aid, equipment and even soldiers to remote areas.

The hoverbike demo represented a bright spot on a gray winter day this month at the U.S. Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.

Rising into the cold air above a snow-speckled field, the full-sized electric quadcopter prototype has the capacity to haul up to 300 pounds. It had come a long way since the tiny proof-of-concept that took flight three years ago. Back then, when U.S. Army leaders first started looking into a hoverbike that could resupply soldiers, the UK-based company Malloy Aeronautics caught their eye.

The company's aim is for their hoverbikes to autonomously deliver aid, people, and equipment. Led by Aussie Chris Malloy, they made headlines in 2014 with a small-scale flying motorcycle with four rotors that could carry a robot. One of the biggest advantages to the design was that it flew like a helicopter, but without the risk of rotor strike because the propellers are protected.

Currently the company is working on a project led by the U.S. Army to develop what they're calling a "joint tactical aerial resupply vehicle" or JTARV for short. Partners on this project include the Marine Corps and the Office of Naval Research. Ultimately the goal is to produce a fully autonomous hoverbike that can hit speeds of at least 60 mph, according to the Army.

Tim Vong, associate chief of the Army Research Laboratory's Protection Division, compared the hoverbike concept to for the battlefield. "Anywhere on the battlefield, soldiers can potentially get resupplied in less than 30 minutes," he said in a press statement. "We want to have options like that."

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Last October, Malloy Aeronautics demonstrated their second-generation hoverbike at the Royal Navy Unmanned Warrior event in Scotland. There, they showed how the aerial vehicle could remotely deploy a large inflatable life raft.

Speed, payload, and range are key factors for the military. The U.S. Army wants a super-fast fully autonomous hoverbike that can zip in and out, and has hybrid propulsion for increased range. Based on what Malloy has been able to achieve in a relatively short amount of time, I expect they'll get there.

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