Air Force Research Lab orders 15 Silent Arrow unmanned cargo gliders
Looking for a new way to resupply ground troops, the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has ordered 15 cargo glider drone/runway drone from Silent Arrow, a company of Yates Electrospace.
The AFRL ordered the “Silent Arrow Precision Guided Bundle”, a new glider variant that is a smaller version of the “Silent Arrow GD-2000” drone, which Silent Arrow built for the US Special Operations Command.
The smaller Precision Guided Bundle UAV will be able to be launched from aircraft side doors and cargo ramps. Aircraft capable of deploying the drones will include those as small as Cessna Caravan turboprops and as large as Boeing C-17 strategic airlifters, the company says.
The autonomous unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) will be built at the company’s Irvine site, then shipped north for operational evaluations in 2022 at Pendleton UAS Test Range in Oregon, Silent Arrow adds.
The Silent Arrow line of cargo gliders have spring-loaded wings that fold for storage and deploy for flight. The type is advertised as being cheaper than the US Army’s Joint Precision Airdrop System, a GPS-guided parachute system used for delivering cargo.
The un-powered Precision Guided Bundle has a 34.8nm (64.4km) glide range and is “deployable from high altitudes and airspeeds”, says Silent Arrow. It is about 1m (3.3ft) long and has 159kg (350lb) of cargo payload capacity. By comparison, the larger Silent Arrow GD-2000 can carry 740kg of cargo.
Silent Arrow says Precision Guided Bundles will also have swarming abilities, likely meaning the UAVs will be able to share sensor data and work together to find landing zones.
The details: The flight was a significant technical challenge, thanks to Mars’s bone-chilling temperatures (nights can drop down to -130 °F/-90 °C) and its incredibly thin atmosphere—just 1% the density of Earth’s. That meant Ingenuity had to be light, with rotor blades that were bigger and faster than would be needed to achieve liftoff on Earth (although the gravity on Mars, which is only about one-third of Earth’s, worked in its favor). The flight had originally been scheduled to take place on April 11 but was delayed by software issues.
Why it’s significant: Beyond being a significant milestone for Mars exploration, the flight will also pave the way for engineers to think about new ways to explore other planets. Future helicopter drones could help rovers or even astronauts by scoping out locations, exploring inaccessible areas, and capturing images. Ingenuity will also help inform the design of Dragonfly, a car-size drone that NASA is planning to send to Saturn’s moon Titan in 2027.