The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), however, has come up with a new way to safely accelerate and decelerate unmanned aircraft. Earlier this month, DARPA unveiled its new drone-catching system that literally snatches unmanned aircraft out of the sky.
Dubbed “SideArm,” it’s essentially the opposite of a traditional aircraft carrier hook system. SideArm fits in a standard-sized shipping container and can be operated by just 2-4 people. When activated, the SideArm drone launched almost fully horizontally from a rail-mounted catapult. And when it’s ready to land, the operators secure the grabber to the rail and the drone flies under it. There’s a hook at the back of the drone that snags the line, allowing the drone to decelerate more quickly.
Drones and other unmanned aircraft typically require a long runway to land — something the SideArm will hopefully change. Assuming it works as intended, it would allow for more efficient landing thanks to its ability to literally grab aircraft from the sky.
When speaking about the project, the program’s manager Graham Drozeski explained by saying the SideArm seeks to replicate the carrier’s capability to quickly and safely accelerate and decelerate planes via a versatile, flexible and inexpensive solution.
“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. 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.”
So, when can you expect to see the SideArm operational? There’s still no word yet on an official date, but it’s already been proven to work. Aurora Flight Sciences conducted a successful test of the SideArm back in December 2016, during which operators were able to capture a 400-pound Lockheed Martin Fury drone. While that’s certainly impressive, officials say the SideArm is capable of catching drones weighing up to 1,100 pounds.
It’s important to note that SideArm is actually a par of DARPA’s investment in Phase 1 research for Tern, which is a joint operation between DARPA and the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR).
What do you think of DARPA’s SideArm?