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SideArm prototype catches full-size UAS flying at full speed

The ability to carry air power anywhere in the world, and both launch and recover aircraft, has been essential to aircraft carriers’ decades-long dominance of naval warfare. To help provide similar capabilities — minus the 90,000-ton carriers — to US military units around the world, DARPA’s (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) SideArm research effort seeks to create a self-contained, portable apparatus able to horizontally launch and retrieve unmanned aerial systems (UAS) of up to 900 lb.

In December 2016, Aurora Flight Sciences successfully tested a full-scale technology demonstration system that repeatedly captured a 400 lb (181kg) Lockheed Martin ‘Fury’ UAS that had been accelerated to representative flight speeds via an external catapult. The system can recover aircraft up to 1,100 lb, exceeding DARPA’s design objectives.

SideArm fits inside a standard 20ft shipping container for easy transport by truck, ship, rail, C-130 transport aircraft, and CH-47 heavy-lift helicopter. The small-footprint system is designed to operate in truck-mounted, ship-mounted, and standalone/fixed-site facilities. A crew of only two to four people can set up or stow the system in minutes.

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 UAS, 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.

SideArm is part of DARPA’s individual investment in Phase 1 research for Tern, a joint program between DARPA and the US Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR). Now that demonstration of the capture system is complete, DARPA is working to identify potential transition partners, and exploring using SideArm with other UAS platforms.

Click here to watch a video of the test.

Edited by Michael Jones

February 8, 2017


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