DARPA Testing Robotic Helicopter Landing Gear

"Having the ability to land on and take off from angled, irregular, and moving surfaces would greatly expand the effectiveness of helicopters across many military and national security missions," according to DARPA.

DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is working on something new: robotic landing gear for helicopters. (Are self-flying helicopters coming soon?) Helicopter pilots require flat surfaces to land, "surfaces that are often unavailable in helicopter-needy environs such as forward operating areas, ships at sea and natural-disaster zones. Having the ability to land on and take off from angled, irregular, and moving surfaces would greatly expand the effectiveness of helicopters across many military and national security missions," according to DARPA.

So the agency has conducted a demonstration of a robotic landing gear system. "The adaptive system replaces standard landing gear with four articulated, jointed legs that are able to fold up next to the helicopter's fuselage while in flight and are equipped with force-sensitive contact sensors in their feet. During landing, each leg extends and uses its sensors to determine in real time the appropriate angle to assume to ensure that the helicopter stays level and minimize any risk of the rotor touching the landing area," it reports.

"The equipment—mounted on an otherwise unmodified, unmanned helicopter—successfully demonstrated the ability to land and take off from terrain that would be impossible to operate from with standard landing gear," said Ashish Bagai, DARPA's program manager.

According to the agency, the demonstration flight was conducted near Atlanta and indicated these potential benefits:

  • Reduced risk of damage during hard landings, by as much as a factor of five, compared to conventional landing gear
  • Stable landing and take-off on sloping terrain of up to 20 degrees, more than twice current limits, and on craggy, boulder-strewn, or otherwise irregular terrain
  • Ship landings in violent sea states
  • Significant increase in capabilities with only a modest increase in landing gear weight

The robotic landing gear system was developed with funding from DARPA's Mission Adaptive Rotor program and is undergoing continued development by the Georgia Institute of Technology.

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