DARPA is building the helicopter of the future
While helicopters traditionally need flat ground to land and take off from, DARPA and the Georgia Institute of Technology are looking into enabling helicopters to land on incredibly uneven ground.
Using a set of robotic legs attached to their underside, helicopters would be able to take off and land on uneven, irregular and even moving surfaces. As you can imagine, this greatly increases the usefulness of a helicopter in rescue situations.
The robotic legs automatically unfurl as the helicopter approaches land, “feeling” out for the ground below using an array of sensors. As each leg can move independently from the other, they can find stable footing for a safe landing. It’s unclear exactly how DARPA’s “Mission Adaptive Rotor robotic landing gear” technology works, but as you can see in the video below, it’s an incredible advancement for aircraft capable of vertical takeoff.
“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 DARPA program manager Ashish Bagai.
Helicopter pilots have an awful lot to deal with during takeoff and landing; handling downward resistance, uneven landings and weather conditions to name a few. Many helicopter crashes take place during landing attempts, with things going awry in stormy conditions or forced landings on uneven terrain. The addition of self-stabilising robotic legs would make a drastic difference to the safety of helicopter flight.
Bagai claims that robotic legs would give helicopters the ability to land on 20-degree sloping terrain or even craggy boulder-strewn landscapes, and ensure safe and stable landing on ships in violent seas.
Currently the system hasn’t been tested on a full-scale helicopter, used instead on a rather large remote-control hobby vehicle. But as the technology fundamentally works in the same way, there’s no reason to believe this won’t make its way onto full-sized helicopters in the future.