Back in 2015, the U.S. Army partnered with with Mallory Aeronautics with the hope of building a hoverbike, a rectangular prop-powered flying device that could someday theoretically carry both supplies and troops. The project has been coming along nicely, with successful tests of the device completed early this year. But it seems the role of the “hoverbike” might be changing, with a shift away from manned operation to an emphasis on resupply and delivery.
Here’s the hoverbike, officially the Joint Tactical Aerial Resupply Vehicle (JTARV), in action during the latest tests:
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You’ll note that, despite the JTARV’s elongated shape that would definitely accommodate a human rider, officials make no mention of that use-case, preferring instead to discuss it as an riderless supply drone.
That’s a shift from when the partnership was first announced, and one of the companies involved in developing the functional prototypes described the value of a hoverbike this way to Reuters:
It can transport troops over difficult terrain and when it’s not used in that purpose it can also be used to transport logistics, supplies, and it can operate in both a manned and unmanned asset. It can also operate as a surveillance platform.
Of course this was coming from an independent contractor, not the Army itself. Still, the design of the vehicle was obviously and explicitly meant to accommodate a rider before the Army got involved, and Mallory Aeronautics performed limited tests with a rider on board.
Making a hoverbike that could support a rider is wildly difficult as DIY projects have proven. Besides, riderless supply drones are likely more useful to the military in the near-term. Last year, the Pentagon nixed plans to use Boston Dynamics’ robot dog as a packmule, and the JTARV is a joint project with involvement from both the Army and the Marines. Perhaps a suitable replacement.
Still, the JTARV’s distinct rectangular shape complete with complex overlapping propellers offers additional complications and little advantage over a more traditional quadcopter design unless you slap a person on top to ride it. The Armed Forces might be shying away from highlighting that as an end-goal or even a potential use-case, but it seems ludicrous to not try putting a rider on there.