Tiltrotor Drone Could Haul Supplies, Rescue the Wounded
Pentagon wants a speedy, vertical-lifting robot
Take the wing from a V-22 Osprey tiltrotor, mate it to the top of a septic tank and you’ll have something like the Pentagon’s proposed vertical-lift cargo drone.
The Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System—ARES, for short—could become the strap-it-on aircraft of choice for delivering cargo and lifting out wounded troops.
That is, if the fringe-science Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency can get it to work. Tiltrotors are notoriously finicky.
ARES, engineered by Lockheed Martin’s famed Skunk Works lab, appears to consist of a flight module with a wing and two tilting ducted fans for lift and propulsion.
The wing would attach to a variety of cargo pods for hauling supplies, casualties and surveillance equipment. DARPA estimates the flight module could lift up to 3,000 pounds.
“Many missions require dedicated vertical take-off and landing assets, but most ground units don’t have their own helicopters,” program manager Ashish Bagai said in a press release. “ARES would make organic and versatile VTOL capability available to many more individual units.”
Operators could control ARES through their mobile phones or tablets. Most interestingly, the DARPA announcement says the aircraft would be unmanned at first, “with a future path towards semi-autonomous flight systems and user interfaces for optionally manned/controlled flight.”
This suggests that the flight module could eventually have a human pilot on board.
DARPA is already working on strictly manned VTOL aircraft. Sikorsky Aircraft and Aurora Flight Sciences won contracts last December to develop prototypes for the $130-million Vertical Takeoff and Landing Experimental Plane project, slated to fly in 2017.
DARPA says an unmanned VTOL cargo drone would be useful for when helicopters aren’t available. What they are not saying, but should, is that resupply of troops under fire or in exposed outposts jeopardizes valuable helicopters and crew.
A small resupply drone that can plop down into tight spots would be less risky for people and for the Pentagon’s budget.
That said, the U.S. military has had a less than happy experience with manned tiltrotors, namely the crash-prone V-22. ARES will have to prove, once again, that the tiltrotor concept can work at all.