DARPA’s New Project Sidearm Can Catch Drones in Mid-air
Remember how Mr. Miyagi caught flies using chopsticks in Karate Kid and how swift and precise he was? Well, the Pentagon’s research wing — DARPA, now has an apparatus that mimics Mr. Miyagi’s incredible fly catching skills.
Meet Project Sidearm — DARPA’s latest giant gadget that was designed to catch drones in mid-air. The system, designed by Aurora Flight Sciences, was specifically made to catch fixed-wing drones weighing up to 1320 pounds and can be folded away into a 20-foot shipping container for transportation.
One might wonder why the military chose to develop such a dramatic method of retrieving fixed-wing drones. Why not just let the drones land using the conventional way they were designed to — on a runway. The answer lies in the long stretches of runways required to land such huge UAVs.
Project Sidearm was designed to be used in places such as on military ships like frigates and destroyers where it is not possible to have a long runway for launching and landing UAVs. Although multi-rotor drones can easily be launched vertically with no need for a runway, they are no match for fixed-wing drones when it comes to flight range and payload capacity. Since fixed-wing drones have longer flight times and are more energy-efficient when compared to multi-rotor drones, they are the preferred choice when long distances need to be covered.
Project Sidearm is not only capable of catching drones in mid-air, it can also launch drones by using a catapult, eliminating the need for a runway. The system catches drones by tugging onto a drone’s tail hook before swinging it upwards into an arresting net which tugs onto a barb on the drone’s nose. The whole process happens in less than a second and takes up very little space.
DARPA is not the only organization looking into launching and landing fixed-wing drones in tight spaces. Other companies such as Zipline have also developed similar systems for civilian projects. Zipline currently operates an unmanned aerial system in Rwanda that is used to distribute blood and medical supplies to rural locations in the country. The system makes use of fixed-wing drones that can land in dense jungle locations without the need for long runways.