The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) says it intends to take takeoff and recovery capacities displayed by jets on U.S. Navy aircraft carriers and apply it to unmanned aerial systems (UASs).

The SideArm research effort seeks to create a self-contained, portable apparatus able to horizontally launch and retrieve UASs of up to 900 pounds (408 kg).

Aurora Flight Sciences of Manassas, VA, recently tested a full-scale technology demonstration system that repeatedly captured a 400-pound (181 kg) Lockheed Martin Fury UAS accelerated to representative flight speeds via an external catapult. The system reportedly recovers aircraft up to 1,100 pounds (499 kg), exceeding DARPA’s design objectives (see video).

The prototype fits in the footprint of a standard 20-ft shipping container for transport by truck, ship, rail, C-130 transport aircraft, and CH-47 heavy-lift helicopter. The SideArm is designed to operate in truck-mounted, ship-mounted, and standalone/fixed-site facilities. A crew of two to four people can set up or stow the system in minutes.

Combining launch and capture equipment into a single rail that folds for transport keeps the SideArm compact. Instead of using a net to catch the UAS, the system snags a hook on the back of the vehicle and directs the hook to travel down the rail. This approach provides slower, more constant and controlled deceleration, which is safer for the vehicle.

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