Launching and Retrieving Drones on the Fly
Kyle Maxey posted on February 09, 2017 |
(Image courtesy of DARPA.)

(Image courtesy of DARPA.)

One of the reasons aircraft carriers are so formidable is their powerful aircraft launch and recovery systems.

To take off, an airplane is hooked up to a catapult and rocketed toward the nose of the ship, engines blazing. As the deck slips away, the craft takes flight. When it comes time to land an aircraft, a cable is strung across the deck in order snag and decelerate the incoming jet. 

If the cable weren’t there, the plane would steam toward the end of the flight deck and find itself in a watery grave.

Well, now DARPA wants to replicate that same type of technology on smaller ships, trucks and even fixed-site facilities. Oh, and they want it to use it for drones.

Named SideArm, the new self-contained, portable, horizontal launch and retrieval system was recently tested by Aurora Flight Sciences. During the demonstration a full-scale SideArm system showed that it could repeatedly capture a 400 pound Lockheed Martin Fury drone. In fact, DARPA was hoping that the SideArm system would be able to nab a 900 pound drone, and after repeated stress tests, the Aurora Flight Sciences design proved that it could snatch up an 1,100 pound vehicle flying at catapult launch speeds.

“SideArm aims to replicate carriers’ capability to quickly and safely accelerate and decelerate planes through a portable, low-cost kit that is mission-flexible, independent from local infrastructure and compatible with existing and future tactical unmanned aircraft,” said Graham Drozeski, DARPA program manager.

“We’ve demonstrated a reliable capture mechanism that can go anywhere a 20-foot container can go—the DARPA-worthy challenge we had to overcome to make SideArm’s envisioned capabilities possible,” Drozeski continued. “We are pleased with the progress we’ve made enabling a wide variety of sea- and land-based platforms with persistent intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike capabilities.”

SideArm’s small size means that the system can be transported by truck, rail, a C-130 or a CH-47 chopper, meaning that it’ll likely become a critical system as the military’s drone use expands.

For more drone news, find out how a UAV performed the first ever perched landing.

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