DARPA's Four-Legged Helicopter Makes Pads Obsolete

Flying machines are turning into insects.

Helicopters are used in place of planes when runways aren’t available, but that doesn’t mean they can land anywhere. Pads are designed to aid the liftoff of machines that can’t land on either moving or sloped surfaces — at least not gracefully. Now, DARPA is trying to render the pad obsolete by putting helicopters on four-legged, sensor-operated landing mounts that would allow them to adjust — to a point anyway — to uneven ground.

This simple idea will give pilots the ability to land on ground with an up to 20-degree gradient or on uneven surfaces. It’s a particularly useful development because the electrostatic properties of helicopters make hovering and throwing down a ladder or rope — the classic action movie solution — problematic. Not electrocuting people, however mildly, constitutes progress and not having to look for a flat spot should save considerable time.

Though the initial tests are being done on helicopters and helicopter-like, remote-controlled machines, there is a very clear drone application to this new work. Quadcopters may just continue evolving into the shape of a dragonfly. It works for nature so there’s no reason to think it can’t work for us.

DARPA said in a statement it is specifically developing this technology for “Forward Operating Areas.”

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