3D Robotics

Insanely big multicopter (?) lifts off


No video, sadly. From Gizmag:

Following on from driving tests that wound up in December last year, the Black Knight Transformer prototype demonstrator has taken to the air for the first time. California-based Advanced Tactics, Inc., announced its vehicle, which combines the capabilities of a helicopter and an off-road vehicle, completed its first flight tests last month, being remotely piloted at an undisclosed location in Southern California.

During the test flights, the vehicle's stability and attitude were handled by the autopilot, with the ground-based human pilot only responsible for increasing or decreasing power. Although it is designed to hover at altitudes of up to 10,000 ft (3,050 m), for safety purposes altitude was limited to less than 10 ft (3 m), with outrigger landing gear attached to prevent it rolling over in the event of any mishaps. There was also an electrical cable attached to the underside of the vehicle that provided emergency shutdown capability. Turns out these precautions weren't required, with Advanced Tactics reporting the aircraft was stable, controllable, and performed as expected.

Similar to the aircraft being pursued by DARPA's Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System (ARES) program, the Black Knight is designed specifically for autonomous casualty evacuation and unmanned cargo resupply missions. While it can be flown by an onboard pilot, its unmanned capabilities are intended to keep pilots out of harm's way on dangerous missions.

The Black Knight Transformer during its first flight

The vehicle boasts six rotors, with a high-speed computerized feedback control system managing the differential thrust between opposing sets of prop-rotors to provide stability and control. This is similar to the approach employed by small electric multicopters, with the company saying this approach is mechanically simpler and cheaper than employing an articulated rotor system like that found on conventional helicopters. This also eliminates the need for a tail-rotor or engine transmission.

To strengthen its suitability for military cargo resupply missions, the vehicle's design provides it with a large interior volume relative to its overall footprint. The company says this feature also makes it suitable for civil missions, such as package delivery and fire-fighting. Measuring 31 x 19 x 8 ft (9.5 x 5.8 x 2.5 m)(L x W x H) in flight configuration, the prototype demonstrator weighs 4,400 lb (1,995 kg).

The AT Black Knight Transformer has a large interior volume similar to that of a BlackHawk...

On the ground, it can reach speeds of 70 mph (112 km/h) traveling on suspension and a drivetrain similar to those found in off-road trucks. As well as smoothing out the ride on rough terrain, the large truck tires and shocks also help soften the vehicle's landings. The modular automobile portion of the vehicle is also designed to be removed to allow for additional payload capacity, or swapped out for a boat hull or amphibious hull for water operations.

Advanced Tactics says that the successful first flight test of the Black Knight Transformer will pave the way for other future modular and roadable vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft. The company has been working on the smaller AT Panther Transformer, a "low-cost vehicle" that carries two passengers and their gear and is designed for Special Operations missions. It is also developing a modular, cargo carrying aircraft that would carry 3,500-lb (1,590-kg) payloads in detachable cargo pods. The company is currently seeking investors and pursuing US and other government commercial opportunities.

Source: Advanced Tactics, Inc.

E-mail me when people leave their comments –

You need to be a member of diydrones to add comments!

Join diydrones


  • Re: comments about their engine and gear reduction choice, this is a prototype. I suspect they tried to keep the cost as low as possible while demonstrating that a multicopter can be scaled to this size. Once they land some funding, they'll probably redesign the whole thing.

  • No, the other two aren't worth boasting about, Euan.

  • The vehicle boasts six rotors...


    You mean eight, surely?

  • Domino's could deliver a lot of pizzas with one.  P)

  • and than you find a post here....I had a fly-away  can somebody check my log files please :-)

  • Flip it! Flip it! hah, I was laughing the entire time waiting for the guy piloting it remotely to start showing some acro skills. Hope the failsafes properly configured. 

  • Developer

    Yes running turbines at peak efficiency to make electricity makes much sense.

    Brushless motors are very efficient compared to combustion engines. The problem is that batteries are crap compared to the energy density of fuel.

  • A turbine driven alternator (or twin turbine driven alternators) powering brushless motors must surely be the future of large scale concepts like this. It seems logical that payload capacity, endurance, mechanical noise, flight performance, required maintenance, service intervals and overall reliability could all be significantly improved with this approach.

    Also, at this scale, wouldn't a Controllable Pitch Propeller design like the Curtis Youngblood approach be superior to the Fixed Pitch Propeller design of a conventional multirotor? Especially when coupled to an ICE power plant?
  • Oh, and two-strokes or not, they will be burning a lot less fuel than your average turbine helicopter.  They'll be running in the region of 300g/kWh, whereas a turbine could easily be twice that, or more.

  • On closer inspection, they run the engines with gear reductions for one direction and belt reductions for the counter-rotating prop.   Odd really, because the 2-stroke engines can easily be made to run backwards, although whether the gear reduction would like it, I'm not sure.

This reply was deleted.