Black Knight Transformer — A Military Octorotor You Can Ride In


We saw this pop up a few times before and to be honest, we weren’t sure if it was actually real or not. This is the Advanced Tactics Black Knight Transformer — the world’s first VTOL (vertical take off and landing) aircraft that also doubles as an off-road vehicle.

Designed and built in California, it just received government approval and Advanced Tactics has released the first driving and flight test video. It was apparently designed as a rapid-response evacuation vehicle for wounded soldiers in war affected zones. It features a whopping eight individually driven rotors that swing out on “transforming” arms during flight. It also has a removable ground drive-train which can be swapped out for an amphibious boat hull, or even a cargo pod!

At the forefront of large-scale multicopter design and manufacturing, we poked around Advanced Tactic’s website a bit and found another one of their projects, the Transformer Panther sUAS — a miniature version of the Black Knight, designed as a small unmanned aircraft system that is also capable of land and sea use.

Stick around after the break to see them in action — and let us know what you think!

And the Panther uSAS:

[Thanks Steve, via ECN Magazine]

54 thoughts on “Black Knight Transformer — A Military Octorotor You Can Ride In

  1. I was about to jump on the editors because this is obviously not the world’s first VTOL aircraft. Then I realized that the comma in the second sentence must be spurious. GRAMMAR MATTERS, PEOPLE!

  2. can this thing really do ‘off-road’ with those tiny wheels and that brittle looking suspension ? The size and weight of this thing also seem to negate the maneuverability which makes multirotors so interesting. Now it just looks like a slow, big and noisy hovering target. imho the future of multirotors is in small agile models that can be deployed in swarms, not these huge unsexy looking bricks.

    1. Looks substantially more well built than most dune buggies I’ve seen. As for your comment on wheel size…absolutely, this thing won’t be rock-crawling in some of the worst terrain, because while It has a nice, wide wheel base and sturdy shocks to absorb most off-road conditions, if you end up in a crappy location where most off-roaders would have to be “substantial” to survive…this thing can just fly over.

          1. or use a smaller model to develop software and test routines, then scale up the size+horsepower.
            You do not really need a windtunnel for someting like this: you already know it is as aerodynamic as a pointed brick.

    1. It doesn’t need to be that aerodynamic though.
      It just needs to be able to get a person out of a semi-urban area safely. A car might have trouble getting into the area, as well as a helicopter. Also, having any sort of human driver would put that driver at risk as well.
      I assume they wont be flying for more than a mile or two, and the wheels are just to get it to a place where they can take off without hitting anything (so, like maybe 20 feet away).

  3. This looks like some random pet project.

    I don’t see how this could possibly be feasible.

    What’s the range and speed like?

    There’s absolutely no protection, suspension, or anything else that looks like it could even remotely be a realistic project that would ever see the battlefield.

    Multicopters are fun for us to play with, but in the real world isn’t a helicopter a much better option? Not to mention tried, true, and hardened for real world operations.

      1. Close to it. Any enclosed space small enough to make it worth using over a light heli puts you awfully close to the action to be slowly drifting in in a big coffin.

        1. There! Somebody else mentioned it, “coffin” If I was wounded on the front lines, and needed to be medivac’d, Unless I was seriously unconscious (like not going to wake up during transport) seeing myself being put into a long dark box would probably scare me to death!

    1. This can probably fly with a few of the rotors blown off, a helicopter can’t. It’s a smaller target, less heat for heat-seeker missiles. And you can paint a red cross / crescent / both on it, which any good sport of an enemy would know not to shoot. If an enemy insists on being a dick about these things, use the wheels to get it back behind friendly lines, then take off once it’s in the clear, so it won’t have to worry about terrain.

      If this gets into widespread use, I can see statistics proving it safer than a chopper for medevac when there’s bullets flying.

  4. Awesome! This is just what the government is looking for. Aerodynamic, low noise, rugged durability, reliability… It’s like the (attempted) military version of the Homer, but with less domes and fins.

  5. Hm. The idea is good, but it looks way too fragile and slow. It is wobbling around on the flat dirt ground, what will it do in real off road terrain where there are stones larger than 5cm, mud and stuff?
    In hover flight it looks like a big, heavy brick of metal barely held by the rotors.
    Also, aren’t rotors this close together highly inefficient because of vortices?

    I want something like a small version of the Boeing quad tilt rotor, like a osprey with 4 rotors.

  6. Eight engines equals eight points of potential (and likely) failure.

    Anyone else notice that the driver wasn’t on board for the test flight? I don’t blame him.

  7. I don’t know about military applications, but I definitely see a future in this concept for RV’s. Think about it…Screw the RV that can turn into a boat. This is the RV you can take out into the middle of no-where and then park on top of a mesa. How awesome is that?

  8. i wouldnt trust my live in a ocrocopter to begin with , a helicopter can autorotate and land somewat safe by controlling the pitch and angle of the helicopter blades
    if one of the propellers on an octocopter stops working for watever reason youre screwed the octocopter will start listing to the side of the broken propeller / motor and then hurls to the ground sideways at great speed
    maibe if you make the trust in total higher than needed you could cut the power to another engine across to counteract the un-equal trust you might be able to at least land the vehicle in a somewat controlled manner should an engine fail but i still be shitting my pants or clench the seatcover between my butcheeks if it happened as there prolly whont be any way to steer it
    ,iliilitairy use ? its noizy and it has mutiple verry hitable components that can render the vehice useless with a single shot from even a .22 gun
    it has to be light to fly so bodyarmour whont work either
    think they would do better to make it a twin rotor helicopter with foldable rotors and a real turbojet engine

    1. A quadcopter can survive the loss of any one motor without losing balance. A hexacopter can lose any two. It might limit controllability and it might not have enough power to remain airborne, but it could at least make a slow descent. So I imagine a hexacopter would be pretty safe… especially if it had the ability to overspeed some motors to compensate for damage.

      I doubt this thing is intended for assault. They’re probably testing it as a way to extract spies and specops soldiers, or maybe high-value prisoners. The fact that riding in something like this would be $#&$@*! insane is just one of the hazards of the job. And I have to say that this is a little bit saner than tying a big balloon to yourself and getting snatched off the ground by a passing C-130. (Look it up.)

        1. Dunno if it’d give off too much heat to track, being spread between 8 electric motors. Multicopters are very manoeuvrable! Some sensors and clever programming and it might be able to out-manoeuvre an RPG. You might want to throw a few packing peanuts in with the guy inside, though.

          1. The classic 50’s from to Vietnam, Afghanistan, Afganistan, and Iraq up to current day Soviet RPG-7 which everyone calls an RPG is an aimed rocket ‘bazooka’ with a shaped charge warhead, no guidance.

  9. This reminds me of how when I look at the current state of technology and its directions and uses and the current thinking I seriously think that if I was the inventor of a battery with say for example 100 or 1000 times the capacity of the current ones I would feel I had no option but to hide the research and protect it from getting out, at least for a the coming decades. And if I could not hide it I’d destroy it.

    Which obviously would be pretty sad since there would be many good things you could do with such, but the good has no chance outweighing reality as it is.

  10. Sorry to be negative, but I don’t see any real application for this in the military. If you want a tail-less multirotor plane you need to open your eyes and realize we’ve had them for decades. What do you think a CH-47 Chinook is?! If it’s going to fly it needs to be light. If it’s supposed to be an off road land vehicle then it needs to be beefy and robust. Two things that never go together. That’s just my opinion.

    1. The new thing here is that it can go electric and that a computer balances it rather than pilot skill.
      Looking at it from a military viewpoint it means you can have a small non-specialized unit that can ‘hop’ up/over things. And seeing the trend is to go for smaller groups of somewhat self-supporting units this fits with that trend.
      And if for instance you are looking at some long-term earthquake aftermath management it might be handy to have a vehicle that can use the road to ferry people but can get over cracks and fallen boulders and such maybe?

  11. I have to wonder what their ultimate goals are.

    If the idea is to have a unit that can leap frog along like the armored soldiers from Starship Troopers (the book) then the production model of this prototype may be an option. They sacrifice armor for maneuverability. Roll along quietly till you’re close enough then jump in deploy grunts and jump out. Alternatively they can jump in, MEDIVAC and jump out; then roll away.

    If the idea is to deliver and extract a rolling fighting vehicle they may be better served to build a drone that can move an individual HMMWV (Hummer) around. The vehicle signals or is designated for pick up. The drone flies down, latches onto the vehicle and flies off. Since they use Chinooks or larger helicopters to sling load a Hummer it would take an aircraft of comparable lift capacity. Alternatively they could build a lighter ground vehicle designed specifically for the lift drone. Sell it as a system.

    Most hybrid aircraft cars all have one thing in common. They weren’t really good aircraft or cars. This particular design may be just waiting on smaller and more efficient power plants; something like the toroidal engine that Angel Labs holds a patent on or a pair of gas turbines driving multiple rotors.

    1. I think the army dump hummers as being completely useless many years ago.
      Nice that you know the old acronyms but it’s MRAP that is the word nowadays. And those don’t fly all that easy, you’d need a hell of a lot of lift.

      Oh and while talking about old hardware, the U2 and A10 were also both scratched in the latest budget. Although just the other day I hear about a airtraffic control center and airport being closed for a while because the RADAR has a bug which made it go into a reset loop after detecting an U2 and not being able to determine its altitude, grinding air-traffic to a standstill – or should I say ‘holding pattern’.

  12. I would love to see a video with forward flight. This thing scares me. The video never shows them out of ground effect. Is there enough control margin to even have stable forward flight?

  13. Specifications
    Length (flight config.) 31.0 ft 9.5 m
    Width (flight config.) 19.0 ft 5.8 m
    Height 8.0 ft 2.5 m
    Length (stowed config.) 25.0 ft 7.6 m
    Width (stowed config.) 8.5 ft 2.6 m
    Gross Weight 4,400 lb 1,995 kg

    Estimated Performance
    Service Ceiling 10,000 ft 3,050 m
    Ground Driving Speed 70 mph 112 km/h
    Above are the specs on the prototype. However this flying truck will not look like this brick later this year. It will have a more “airplaney” look. Something akin to a C-130 maybe. It will probably be used for Medevac Operations. Despite all you Vietnam helo fly-jocks this thing can fly without one motor.

    The service ceiling is just a milspec joke IMO. Even though it has a stern parachute you would not want this brick up at angels10. It will only fly a few feet off the ground and do some canyon-hopping. What gets me is the NOISE! It looks and sounds like an RPG target to me. It’s not stealthy when airborne. It also has too many right angles for radar detection. It could use a noise-abatement system like that quiet-helo they used in Pakistan recently (i.e. LowObs MH-60 BHawk?).

    It’s little brother (Panther) can do angels25 and will be used for electronic surveillance like drones do – with all that rotor noise? I think the enemy will be required to be deaf (and stupid) for this thing to survive a reactive ground assault on it. Just like the Predator (MQ-1 glass turret lens shield) it has too many glass sun-angle opportunities for unwanted ground observation potential. Scene from BODY OF LIES (2008) (Go to timestamp 1:00 for 2 seconds to see what I’m talking about).

    Just my 2¢…

      1. There is (or was) work being done with multiple Lockwood Hiller pulse jets and timing their detonations to produce a noise cancellation effect. I don’t see why you couldn’t do the same with contra-rotating rotors and or ducted fans. The downside being increased weight with the ducts and mechanical bits for the second propellers.

        Not sure the decrease in noise would be worth the loss in lift capacity. I don’t know how many of you have been on the receiving end of a helicopter but they’re not exactly quiet to begin with. The V-22 Ospreys are even louder; you can feel the overpressure on your body at 500′.

        At the end of the day everything in aviation is a trade off; weight, drag, speed, efficiency, lift. all of it goes into the mini-max equations and you have to decide where on the curve you want to operate and what you want to expend to get there. The fuel expenditures on the Blackbird were insane but nothing could touch her for a long time. Where as a U2 pilot could have a flame out at it’s max operating altitude and still have several hours to decide which end of Europe they want to land in.

      2. @Greenaum – I dunno’ but maybe DARPA or SAIC could come up with something uber-creative like an anti-noise downward-pointing loudspeaker system. A microphone would sample the rotor noise and project an representative audio signal downward that was 180° out-of-phase. That should produce a noise cancellation to any listeners on the ground. However, it would be less than a perfect 100% cancellation. You’d still hear something. I’ve used headphones like that and I could not hear people talking to me right next to me. But the music was clear as a bell.

        But if you can get this thing high enuf’ it won’t matter as you (on the ground) wouldn’t be able to hear it anyway. However, I would not want to be in this thing at 10,000 feet! But if they considered some sort of LTAG-NBC (lighter than air gas – neutral buoyancy craft) hybrid I would reconsider. Like the Boeing SkyHook ( However, that would DEFINETLY make you an RPG (rocket-propelled-grenade) magnet!

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.