Advanced Tactics, a small aerospace company based in El Segundo, California, has released a video of its first test flight of the Black Knight Transformer, an unmanned vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicle that morphs into an ambulance in order to evacuate wounded troops from an urban battlefield.

The test flight of the boxy, 1,810kg (4,000lb) Black Knight Transformer demonstrator featured in the video was the first in a series that took place in late March on a small, prepared landing zone in the Anza-Borrego Desert, northeast of San Diego, says Rustom “Rusty” Jehangir, chief engineer at Advanced Tactics.

“We did a number of short flights,” Jehangir says. “They were all under 10 feet above ground level.”

Advanced Tactics

Though the VTOL was controlled and stabilized by onboard computer, the test included a backup remote pilot on the ground to correct for any flight errors. “There was also an electrical tether that was attached to a kill switch” which, if pressed, could shut off all of the vehicle’s eight fixed-pitch propeller-driven engines, he adds.

The US Army Telemedicine & Advanced Technologies Research Centre, in Fort Detrick, Maryland, and the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, in Quantico, Virginia have both supported development of the Black Knight Transformer. And Advanced Tactics is set for a follow-on Marine Corps demonstration in September.

But beyond that, Jehangir wants to see the vehicle follow in the path of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which transformed its own flying car program into the Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System, a modular VTOL carrier frame that can transport cargo or ground vehicles.

“It’s basically a flight system that can be attached to anything. We think that the best future option for our technology is to do something similar,” he says, adding that, unlike a conventional helicopter, the Black Knight Transformer’s engines are all contained within the rotor arms to make reconfiguration easier.

Finally, Advanced Tactics hopes to pair its vehicle with the advanced navigation and sensor package being developed under the Navy’s Autonomous Aerial Cargo/Utility System (AACUS) program. “We think that an ideal fit for our technology would be as a platform for AACUS,” Jehangir says.