The US Army for the first time caught and recovered Area-I Altius “air-launched effects” drones in mid-air using a quadcopter during Project Convergence exercises in August and September.
Air-launched effects are small UAVs carried aboard and released from larger aircraft, giving them extended reach. The Altius-600 has 238nm (440km) range after launch.
The service avoided $2-3 million in potential damage to a collection of Altius fixed-wing unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) by using a new Flying Air Recovery System (FLARES), Brigadier General Walter Rugen, director of the US Army’s Future Vertical Lift Cross Functional Team, said on 6 October.
“Previously, the Area-I Altius recovery involved belly landing the air vehicle,” Rugen told FlightGlobal in September. “But, during [Project Convergence 2020] we’ve been able to successfully air recover the [air vehicle] more than 25 times using a quadcopter UAV.”
The technique makes use of wing hooks on the Altius. The drone flies into cables suspended by the quadcopter, catching the cables in its hooks and sliding “down to the ground, minimising any potential damage”, said Rugen.
For the catch demonstrations, the Area-I UAVs were launched using a rail atop a truck, as well as from airborne Sikorsky UH-60 and MH-60 helicopters and a General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAV, he adds. FLARES is a proof of concept that has not previously been tried, according to the US Army.
The US Army wants its next-generation scout helicopter – the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) – to fly to the edge of dangerous airspace and release a swarm of air-launched effects, which will then penetrate enemy territory and send back intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information. The small drones could also serve as explosive loitering munitions or electronic warfare platforms.
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