back to article DARPA's 'flying wing' drone inches closer to lift-off

Apparently, DARPA likes what it sees in its TERN project. Earlier this month, it gave contractor Northrop Grumman just under US$18 million to build the second of its Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node aircraft. Part of the significance of this is that the contract notice that went out on June 17 was the first hint the …

  1. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Reinventing are we?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convair_XFY_Pogo Interesting aircraft but impractical back then. I guess Northrup thinks it can do better.

    1. notowenwilson

      Re: Reinventing are we?

      I guess a lot of things are more practical when you're not lugging around a couple of hundred pounds of fragile meat with all the associated life support stuff. Not to mention the limitations of human-in-the-loop control. If the V22 is anything to go by this thing will have props that are more akin to rotors with all the usual cyclic and collective controls. The russians have been landing coax-rotor helicopters on small warships for decades with great success.

      1. asdf Silver badge

        Re: Reinventing are we?

        >I guess a lot of things are more practical when you're not lugging around a couple of hundred pounds of fragile meat with all the associated life support stuff.

        Hush or you will give the still fighting the cold war Air Force nightmares. I mean they talked us into spending a trillion on the F-35 which will be obsolete (now actually) long before it is truly combat ready.

        1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

          Re: Reinventing are we?

          So, how many of these would fit on one of the new British carriers?

          1. Def Silver badge
            Joke

            Re: Reinventing are we?

            Three.

        2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

          Re: Reinventing are we?

          I guess a lot of things are more practical when you're not lugging around a couple of hundred pounds of fragile meat with all the associated life support stuff.

          Not as much of a problem of fragile meat as not having the right tech at the time. Today, you can fit high res cameras and distance sensors in the tail at the cost of a few tens of dollars and project the whole affair onto the pilot's HUD. This was not available in the 1950es.

          Similarly, you can implement a fully actuated platform on deck which will compensate for some of the bobbing of the ship in rough seas allowing the craft to land on the intended ship class - the ones that carry helicopters today. That was not really an option 60 years ago - the electronics and sensors to control it were not available.

          A very interesting option would be using this as an early warning system. It can definitely stay at much higher altitude and most likely stay up for longer than a rotary AWACS.

      2. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: Reinventing are we?

        They want it to land on it's tail. Helicopters landing on a bobbing deck are one thing (been there, done that in the military) but a drone that needs to land on it's tail is harder. Although if SpaceX can land a rocket on a barge, anything is possible.

    2. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: Reinventing are we?

      The biggest problem with the Pogo was landing. It turned out to be really, really, really difficult to reverse an aircraft vertically onto a solid surface without exceeding the limitations of the landing gear[1]. Who could have seen that coming? The results here strongly suggested that attempting to land the thing on a ship in any other conditions than the ship being stationary in a flat calm would be suicidal.

      Autonomous systems have no issues here as they can "see" in any direction equally as well as forwards. They also react to changes in situation (moving landing surface, sudden gusts of wind, etc) far more rapidly and accurately than a human pilot can. This makes the concept practical.

      [1] a.k.a: "crashing into the ground".

      1. Alan Edwards

        Re: Reinventing are we?

        If you think landing the Pogo was bad, try the Ryan VertiJet

        It stood on it's tail on a stand, suspended from a hook under the cockpit. To land, you went vertical and backed it up to the stand and hooked the hook onto a cable. You couldn't see the wire or the hook from the cockpit.

        1. A K Stiles
          Joke

          Re: Ryan Vertijet

          Is that another of Michael O'Leary's crazy ideas to cram more people on his 'planes?

  2. DanceMan

    1950's redux

    I also thought of the 50's, but it was the Northrup flying wing.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northrop_YB-49

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northrop_YB-35

    And I was a bit wrong on the dates, it was more late '40's.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: 1950's redux

      The Nazis had a flying wing in 1944 - and managed to invent patois at the same time: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horten_Ho_229

    2. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: 1950's redux

      Chuck Northrop was a serious flying wing enthusiast. Unfortunately he never really cracked the stability problem.

      Fly-by-wire solves this and the most recent large-scale look in that direction was the Airbus A380, as it was originally proposed to be a flying wing. This would have only required three engines, carried more passengers and had a shorter wingspan. A win all round.

      What scotched this approach was the lack of a "side" to attach a jetway to when the thing's on stand.

      1. Alan Edwards

        Re: 1950's redux

        You mean Jack Northrop...

        The B2 cracked it, but Jack Northrop died without seeing it fly.

      2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

        Re: 1950's redux / A 380

        Also, you'd need a lot of sick bags for the passengers. If you want to exploit the aerodynamics of a flying wing to the max, a lot of people are sitting relatively far from the centre of gravity and relatively close to the wingtips. That makes for lively roller coaster rides ad every turn - which isn't everybody's cup of tea. Also, very few window seats. The aerodynamics are superb, but the sheer geometry involved comes with some drawbacks re practical use. Which is sad, because I'd book a flight in something like this.

  3. hugo tyson
    Happy

    Mmmm.... contra rotating....

    But not as sexy as a Fairey Gannet, eh?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    V3, or have we been here V4?

    Nice to see the Nazi's 'V' weapons programme progressing so nicely.

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

      Re: V3, or have we been here V4?

      Sort of - the Horten brothers also drew up plans for a jet bomber with intercontinental range: Horten H.XVIII. Kinda scary.

  5. Mystic Megabyte Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Here are the missiles that you ordered.

    "that can launch from a ship, deliver weapons, and return, "

    deliver weapons"? Shirley that should be "blast the crap out of someone"

  6. Blitheringeejit
    Headmaster

    "600 pounds' worth"?

    That doesn't buy a lot of military-class weaponry, wherever you choose to stick the apostrophe.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "600 pounds' worth"?

      600 quid is worth about three dollars now isn't it?

  7. seven of five

    "Tactically Exploited"?

    Who comes up with these names?

    Why not:

    Blast

    Shit

    Outta

    ´Dem

    or

    Unique

    Performance

    Search,

    Kill,

    Investigate,

    Rotorcraft

    Technology?

    Bah, amateurs.

  8. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Meh

    actually 600lb, 272Kg, can make quite a fair sized bang

    On a human scale.

    Against a squadron of tanks not so much.

    1. seven of five

      Re: actually 600lb, 272Kg, can make quite a fair sized bang

      against a ship, even less.

  9. Wiltshire

    Seems to suggest that the Fairey Rotodyne was 60 years ahead of its time?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4Z1UnRZDyo

  10. Dreadedhill

    Roughs seas and landing

    This is a DARPA project, so they are pushing against the edge of what is possible.

    To take-off from a small platform, even in rough seas, is not too difficult - if you use a catapult to get to initial flight speed. Without some sort of launching system, payload and range will limited.

    To land on a small platform is rough seas, is hard. Really hard. In fact, it might be easier to build some sort of robotic "catcher" arm to snatch the drone from the air, when close enough.

    The special aspect of this project is not the aerodynamics. This is about what you can now do with flight control through small/fast computers and software. Faster-than-human response times, and more complex processing could make feasible now what was not workable in the past.

    Whether this will prove practical, even now, is a question.

    1. x 7

      Re: Roughs seas and landing

      "To land on a small platform is rough seas, is hard. Really hard. In fact, it might be easier to build some sort of robotic "catcher" arm to snatch the drone from the air, when close enough."

      just use something like the winchdown system used by the Westland Lynx?

      As to the Rotodyne, the only real problem was the noise from the rotor-tip jets. A problem that can now be fixed. Problem now would be relearning the technology after fifty years. I'd like to hope Agusta-Westland still have the old records

  11. Alistair Silver badge
    Coat

    if they're only dropping $18M on the research model;

    FInal model prices should be in the $2-$5M range, and you can run far more than one in a flight. Makes a bit of a difference in the results when you send a swarm of bees/locusts instead of single eagle. There is *some* logic here. Rather rare if you ask me.

  12. ecofeco Silver badge

    Drone, drone, drone your boat

    Gently in the sea

    Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily

    The drones are come for thee

    (so sue me)

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