Glider drones could deliver cargo from Air Force planes to the battlefield

With an open door and a slight push, the crate drops into the sky from a cargo transport. Once out of the plane, the craft’s wings unfold and the crate transforms from a falling box into a controlled glider. The cargo box, aided by steady flight and directed navigation, lands miles and miles from where it was dropped, ready to resupply the soldiers who open it.

Resupplying forces in the field is a perpetual test for the military. To facilitate a new type of aerial supply – and at greater distances than before – the Air Force has announced a contract award for 15 “precision-guided cargo delivery drones” from the drone manufacturer Silent Arrow on November 29.

This contract is, formally, “Silent Arrow Guided Bundle Derivative for Deployment of Side Doors and Palletized Swarms at High Speeds and Altitudes”, with the drones themselves being considered Precision Guided Bundles. It’s a waste of a program name, but it tells a story in pieces. In 2019Silent Arrow displayed a large version of their cargo drone that could be dropped from the loading ramps of large transport planes.

[Related: Drones could help save soldiers’ lives by delivering blood on demand]

The new contract is for a similar style of vehicle, about a quarter of the volume and just under half the length of their existing cargo drone. “Palletized swarm deployment” involves launching several of these drones at once, from the side and rear doors of cargo planes, so that cargo can travel in multiple small packages instead of one large package.

The Precision Guided Beams will have a maximum weight of 500 pounds each, with a cargo capacity of 350 pounds inside, as listed in the new specs. Drone beams will be at most 39 inches long, or just over 3 feet, and they can be dropped from a cargo plane at high altitudes and speeds, although exact altitudes and speeds are uncertain. been specified.

What is most striking is the range offered by the drone. Silent Arrow’s existing cargo glider drone can land 40 miles from where it launches. This is the same distance that military paratroopers can fly high-altitude high-aperture drops. (These are distinct from high altitude, low aperture, or HALO, drops where the aircraft must be relatively close to the ultimate landing zone).

When soldiers and special forces jump from an aircraft at high altitude and great distance, they can guide their parachutes to a landing zone miles and miles away. Putting guidance systems on cargo that launches with troops means that when soldiers arrive, they can have some of what they need for sustained combat or a longer mission.

For years, the military has explored different technologies to bring meals, ammunition, and other supplies to such long-distance jumps. In the 1990s, the Air Force and Army began developing the Precision Joint Drop System, which attached to cargo parachutes and could steer them by pulling guidelines and following GPS. This system was first used in Afghanistan in 2006.

Silent Arrow offers a smaller payload than some airdrops, but makes up for it by being able to launch from smaller planes. This specifically includes the Cessna Caravan, a single-engine light transport that serves as the basis for the AC-208 Combat Caravan, a military version used by Special Operations Command. The flexibility of launching from small planes gives the military the ability to send discreet support that does not involve screaming jet engines.

[Related: Navy SEALs could get new airborne backup. Here’s what the planes look like.]

Food, medicine, and ammo aren’t the most showy payloads, but they’re essential for anyone operating on the ground away from regular supply routes. The ability to deliver goods silently and in small consumable packages can keep special forces operational longer as they pursue irregular warfare tasks.

The cargo glider can also assist combat troops in static but hard to reach positions, making a continuous presence possible. And because cargo can be delivered remotely, it can be used more safely in situations where hostile anti-aircraft weapons would make closer delivery by manned aircraft untenable.

air force will test the 15 gilders under contract at the Pendleton Test Range in northeast Oregon to ensure they perform as intended.

Watch the existing Silent Arrow cargo glider fly below:

Comments are closed.