Airborne Drone Carrier Launches Another Drone
Say goodbye to the ScanEagle's 4,000-pound ground catapult
Here’s one way to find a new use for an old drone — stick it underneath another drone which serves as a flying mothership.
Insitu, a Boeing-owned company which manufactures the tiny ScanEagle surveillance drone, recently showed off a video of a quadcopter carrying the ScanEagle into the air and launching it … like a flying aircraft carrier. The ScanEagle then heads back to its quadcopter and snags a retrieval line.
The whole system, known as the Flying Launch and Recovery System or FLARES, is a drone-carrier drone.
“It might sound complicated having to use two UAVs instead of just building a single more powerful drone, but it works because drones that have been built to take-off and land vertically are not really designed to travel over long distances at speed,” Mary-Ann Russon of the International Business Times noted.
The ScanEagle is relatively powerful for its diminutive size. It flies like a plane, can travel up to 19,500 feet, cruise at nearly 70 miles per hour and stay in the air for hours. This made the machine and its camera popular with American troops in Afghanistan.
The problem is that the ScanEagle cannot take off under its own power. Instead, a catapult — the Mark 4 Launcher — first propels the drone into the air.
To “land,” the drone connects to the SkyHook, a giant extended arm and recovery line. But SkyHook and the Mark 4 are on the heavy side. Both weigh more than 4,000 pounds each and need a Humvee or transport truck to move from place to place.
The ScanEagle itself is lightweight at about 40 pounds loaded. So at the least, FLARES frees the ScanEagle from its ground catapult. But it could also be a glimpse — in a small way — at the future of military drones.
In November 2014, the Defense Advanced Research Projects agency put out a request for information for a flying drone carrier. The concept envisioned the possibility of a cargo plane like a C-130 launching drones from the sky.
Futuristic as it seems, the concept resembles the zeppelin-launched biplanes of yore.