How to catch a 400lb drone traveling at full speed

DARPA research system akin to aircraft carriers’ launch and trap system for military aircraft

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DARPA/SideArm research

Catching a full-sized military drone traveling at full speed without destroying it midflight is no easy task. But DARPA this week said a research project it has been working – known as SideArm -- is doing just that and more. DARPA said that SideArm developer Aurora Flight Sciences has successfully tested a full-scale system that repeatedly captured a 400-pound Lockheed Martin Fury unmanned aircraft accelerated to flight speed via an external catapult. A Fury can hit over 130MPH.

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The system is capable of recovering aircraft up to 1,100 pounds.

“SideArm owes its small size to combining its launch and capture equipment into a single rail that folds for transport. Rather than using a traditional capture method that uses a net to catch the drone, the system snags a hook on the back of the vehicle and directs the hook to travel down the rail. This approach provides slower, more constant and controlled deceleration, which is safer for the vehicle,” DARPA said.

DARPA says SideArm’s goal is to develop a portable apparatus able to horizontally launch and retrieve drones of up to 900 pounds from trucks, ships and fixed ground facilities.

The small-footprint system is designed to enable rapid setup and controlled decelerations and adapt to current and future unmanned aircraft, the agency said. SideArm fits in the footprint of a standard 20-foot shipping container for easy transport by truck, ship, rail, C-130 transport aircraft, and CH-47 helicopter.

DARPA said now that a capture system is complete, it is working to identify potential partners and exploring using SideArm with other unmanned platforms.

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