Flights of fancy

Features editor

It’s a question that authors dread: where do you get your ideas? For creative writers, the answer is normally a vague and slightly annoyed mumble about looking at the world around them, fragments of conversation, the odd article in a magazine. For engineers, the answer should surely be more obvious. Where do we get our ideas? We don’t need to get ideas. We look at the problem in front of us, and bring our knowledge of the physical sciences and our experience of how they work to bear.

But not always, as I found last week.

A briefing about the future of tanks was always going to be interesting, especially when the invitation offered a view of science fiction come to life. We can’t resist that sort of thing on The Engineer — who can? — so I went along to meet the representatives of BAE Systems and see what they had to say.

You can read the salient points of the briefing elsewhere on our website. But it was a seemingly throwaway remark from Future Protected Vehicles project leader Hisham Awad that got my well-developed nerd senses tingling.

While Awad was showing one of his team’s concept vehicles, the unmanned skirmisher known as Raider, another of the assembled journalists gave a low whistle.

‘I like that,’ he said. ‘Looks like the Batmobile.’

‘Ah!’ Awad replied, with a grin. ‘Glad you said that. That’s what we based it on.’


‘Yes, we liked the look of that, so we designed something similar.’

What, the Batmobile in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight?

‘Yes, that one. You see, it turns like a motorbike and it has the same wheel configuration.’

Yes, yes, but you’re basing a future fighting vehicle on something you saw in a film?

‘Well, why not?’ Awad replied. ‘In all seriousness, we decided that we didn’t have a monopoly on inspiration, and if we saw something in a film that we thought might be a good idea, why not take a look at it and see if there’s something practical we can develop?’

Why yes, it does look like the Batmobile.

Why not indeed? Keen observers of military vehicles might notice a similarity between modern troop carriers and the armoured vehicle in Aliens, which took the ill-fated Colonial Marine force into the heart of the Xenomorph’s nest. It’s no coincidence; director James Cameron had worked with the Pentagon when developing the film’s design, and the inspiration evidently went both ways.

And the two-way traffic continues; apparently the producers of one of the latest superhero movies, Marvel Comics’ iconic Captain America, were in talks with the manufacturers of a particular military vehicle they liked the look of to be their character’s principal ride, until they found out that the design was Swedish and therefore insufficiently patriotic for the stars-and-stripes-clad hero.

Still, it does make you wonder what’s next. My interest piqued, I couldn’t resist asking what other films Awad’s team had seen recently. Tron Legacy, perhaps?

‘No, haven’t seen that one yet, but I want to,’ he said. ‘Have you? Anything good in it?’

Perhaps the next generation of recruits ought to sharpen up their light-cycle skills. Just in case.

Returning to reality, this is the last Wednesday Agenda for 2010. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these articles, and I’d like to thank all our readers who sent in feedback. We’ll be back in the New Year.