DARPA shows off its SideArm system catching drones mid-flight

Military-style fixed-wing drones are easy to launch, but difficult to land; DARPA aims to change that with SideArm, a portable drone-grabbing system that snatches the fast-moving craft right out of the air.

The basic concept, as suggested when SideArm was first proposed, is sort of a reversal of the classic aircraft carrier hook system.

The SideArm unit, which fits in a shipping container and can be set up and operated by 2-4 people, first launches the drone off a horizontally mounted rail catapult. When the drone is ready to land, the operators attach the grabber (no official name is mentioned) to the rail and the drone flies in directly under it.

ternconceptA hook protruding from the back of the drone snags on a line, which both slows the craft down and causes it to swing up into a waiting net, where nose barbs keep it in place.

You can see the lab tests and concept renders in this video:

“SideArm aims to replicate carriers’ capability to quickly and safely accelerate and decelerate planes through a portable, low-cost kit that is mission-flexible, independent from local infrastructure, and compatible with existing and future tactical unmanned aircraft,” said DARPA’s Graham Drozeski in a press release.

The system is part of the Tern project, a joint venture between DARPA and the Navy aimed at making unmanned aircraft systems that don’t require costly and irreversible modifications to ships.