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'Flying Humvee' moves ahead

Lockheed Martin's design for DARPA's Transformer TX program to develop a battle-ready flying car has advanced to the prototype development stage. AAI Corporation's design has advanced as well. Ground and air demonstrations could begin by 2015.
Lockheed Martin's design for DARPA's Transformer TX program to develop a battle-ready flying car has advanced to the prototype development stage. AAI Corporation's design has advanced as well. Ground and air demonstrations could begin by 2015.Lockheed Martin

A flying car that's rugged enough for hardcore off-road driving, able to survive small-arms fire and can quickly take off and land is potentially just a few years shy of reality, according to reports sourced from DARPA, the U.S. military's future-oriented research arm.

Aerospace companies Lockheed Martin and AAI Corporation have presented "feasible designs" to the military's Transformer program, reports Aviation Week's Ares blog, and have advanced to the next phase, which is to begin work on prototypes of the contraptions.

Formal contracts for Phase 2 have yet to be awarded, AAI spokeswoman Sharon Corna told me in an email, but "it is my understanding that DARPA intends to proceed with us."

Presentation of prototypes of the so-called "flying Humvees" is expected at the end of fiscal 2012. If DARPA selects one of the designs for Phase 3, ground and flight demonstrations of a flying Humvee could occur in 2015.

AAI Corporation's design for the Transformer TX program is shown here.AAI Corporation

Regular folks may soon be able to drive around Terrafugia's Transition roadable aircraft, which cleared regulatory hurdles this July. But that car, which is more like an airplane that drives and must take off and land at airports, is a far cry from what DARPA has in mind.

The military envisions a vehicle that can carry four soldiers and gear, take off and land vertically, be flown more than 250 miles on a tank of gas, and be operated by a "typical soldier," according to DARPA's program description

"Meeting these requirements is pushing the state of the art in lightweight materials and structure, high power-to-weight engines, and autonomous flight controls," Aviation Week notes.

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John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. To learn more about him, check out his website. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.