In December 2016, Aurora Flight Sciences successfully tested a full-scale technology demonstration system that repeatedly captured a 400lb Lockheed Martin FURY UAS accelerated to representative flight speeds via an external catapult.

The system is capable of recovering aircraft up to 1,100 pounds, exceeding DARPA’s design objective of 900 pounds. Now that a successful capture solution has been demonstrated, DARPA seeks to extend the capability to encompass other drones.

SideArm fits in the footprint of a standard 20ft container for easy transport by truck, ship, rail, C-130 HERCULES or CH-47 CHINOOK. 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, using 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 aims to replicate carriers’ capability to quickly and safely accelerate and decelerate planes through a portable, low-cost kit that is mission-flexible, independent from local infrastructure, and compatible with existing and future tactical unmanned aircraft,” Graham Drozeski, DARPA programme manager, said . “We’ve demonstrated a reliable capture mechanism that can go anywhere a 20-foot container can go—the DARPA-worthy challenge we had to overcome to make SideArm’s envisioned capabilities possible. We are pleased with the progress we’ve made enabling a wide variety of sea- and land-based platforms with persistent intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike capabilities.”


DARPA’s SideArm research effort seeks to create a self-contained, portable apparatus able to horizontally launch and retrieve UAS of up to 900 pounds. (Photo: DARPA)

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