Ask military helicopter pilots about the toughest situations they’ve faced and you’re likely to get similar answers: The challenge of landing in the middle of a combat situation on a rescue mission.
Aside from the obvious conflict taking place, rough terrain can also make it extremely difficult to find an area that’s level enough to land safely.
But new technology may be about to change that… thanks to an idea from nature.
Inspired by Insects
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is the division of the U.S. Department of Defense responsible for developing military-grade technologies.
Together with the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), DARPA’s Mission Adaptive Rotor (MAR) program has just come up with a novel idea.
MAR is developing “morphing rotor technology” for both military and commercial helicopters, which is particularly useful in dangerous combat zones or natural disaster areas.
The inspiration behind this technology? Insects. Or, more specifically, dragonflies.
The “Dragonfly Helicopter”
At first glance, it looks like a regular helicopter.
But when the landing process gets underway, it morphs into something quite different.
Rather than touching down on conventional flat landing gear – or “skids” – four robotic legs unfold. These legs are modeled on the legs of dragonflies, and automatically adjust to the terrain, based on readings from an array of force-sensitive contact sensors.
Recent testing showed that the unmanned helicopter had the ability to land on any surface and terrain, even one with a 20° slope.
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One could imagine that “terrain” in the future would include treacherous areas like battlefields with mortar holes or boulder-laden areas. Or landing on a ship that’s enduring rough seas.
The key is that the dragonfly legs allow the rotor to stay as close to level as possible. This greatly reduces the chances of a disaster.
Once in flight, the legs fold up neatly next to the fuselage. Again, this is very similar to what a dragonfly does with its legs while in flight. This feature reduces drag.
Another plus? The legs are similar in weight to current helicopter landing skids.
Take a look…
When available, these new helicopters will not only make difficult and dangerous helicopter missions much less hazardous, they’ll also allow pilots to accomplish tasks that are currently impossible.