They say life often imitates art, and when you have something as insanely cool as a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier in Marvel movies like The Avengers, it’s only a matter of time.
The defense research folks at DARPA are working on some new projects they hope will evolve into real-life “aircraft carriers in the sky” to launch and carry unmanned drones (at first) on missions across the globe. Here’s hoping they’ll watch Captain America: The Winter Soldier a few (dozen) times as a cautionary tale.
Over the past few years, unmanned drones have become a popular tool in battle — largely because if it crashes, or gets shot down, there’s no loss of human life. But, those little drones don’t have much range when it comes to flying long-distance missions. That’s where the helicarriers could come in. If they can figure it out, DARPA says the crafts “could greatly extend the range of UAS operations, enhance overall safety, and cost-effectively enable groundbreaking capabilities for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.”
Instead of investing the money into creating a legit helicarrier right now, DARPA believes a more cost-effective option will be to essentially retrofit a larger existing craft to serve as an early version of these “aircraft carriers in the sky” to test out the concept. But if that proves successful? We’re hoping they’ll take the idea and run with it. They better start working on that cloaking tech, pronto, too.
DARPA is actually opening up the project for proposals. Here are the parameters:
- System-level technologies and concepts that would enable low-cost reusable small UAS platforms and airborne launch and recovery systems that would require minimal modification of existing large aircraft types. This area includes modeling and simulation as well as feasibility analysis, including substantiating preliminary data if available.
- Potentially high-payoff operational concepts and mission applications for distributed airborne capabilities and architectures, as well as relative capability and affordability compared to conventional approaches (e.g., monolithic aircraft and payloads or missile-based approaches). DARPA hopes to leverage significant investments in the area of precision relative navigation, which seeks to enable extremely coordinated flight activities among aircraft, as well as recent and ongoing development of small payloads (100 pounds or less).
- Proposed plans for achieving full-system flight demonstrations within four years, to assist in planning for a potential future DARPA program. DARPA is interested not only in what system functionality such plans could reasonably achieve within that timeframe, but also how to best demonstrate this functionality to potential users and transition partners. These notional plans should include rough order-of-magnitude (ROM) cost and schedule information, as well as interim risk reduction and demonstration events to evaluate program progress and validate system feasibility and interim capabilities.
Do you think creating real-life helicarriers (or at least the 1.0 version we’re talking about here) is a good idea?