Difficult terrain and threats, such as ambushes and IEDs, can make ground-based transportation to and from the front line a dangerous challenge.
To negate those obstacles for the U.S. military, Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works ® is leading a team with Piasecki Aircraft to develop the next generation of compact, high-speed vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) delivery systems under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA’s) Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System (ARES) program.
An artist concept shows the ARES vertical takeoff and landing delivery systems being developed by Lockheed Martin for DARPA.
The ARES VTOL flight module is designed to operate as an unmanned platform capable of transporting a variety of payloads. The flight module has its own power system, fuel, digital flight controls, and remote command-and-control interfaces. Twin tilting ducted fans would provide efficient hovering and landing capabilities in a compact configuration, with rapid conversion to high-speed cruise flight.
Module missions could include cargo resupply, casualty evacuation, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR).
Ashish Bagai, DARPA program manager, says, “Many missions require dedicated vertical takeoff and landing assets, but most ground units don’t have their own helicopters. ARES would make organic and versatile VTOL capability available to many more individual units.”
He notes the program’s goal is to provide flexible, terrain-independent transportation that avoids ground based threats, thus supporting expedited and cost-effective operations and improving the likelihood of mission success.
The program envisions an ARES flight module would travel between its home base and field operations to deliver and retrieve different types of detachable modules, each designed for a specific purpose, including cargo pickup and delivery, casualty extraction, or airborne ISR capabilities.
DARPA expects the flight module to have a useful load capability of up to 3,000 pounds, more than 40 percent of the takeoff gross weight of the aircraft.
Ground units would direct flight modules using apps on ruggedized tablets or mobile phones. Unmanned flights are planned initially, but ARES plans a future path toward semi-autonomous flight systems and user interfaces for optionally manned/controlled flight.
About the author: Alan M. Petrillo is a Tucson, Ariz., journalist who writes for national and regional magazines and newspapers. He’s also the author of the mystery, Full Moon, books on historical military small arms, and the nonfiction work, Ice Hockey in the Desert.