The laws of physics dictate that aircraft carriers have to be giant targets. Fixed-wing planes, faster and more efficient than their helicopter brethren, need runways to take-off and land, and those runways have to be long enough for the plane to generate lift before it's hurtled (with catapult assistance) out over the sea and into the sky. What if the Navy wants to put a fixed-wing drone on a smaller ship, without the space for a full runway? Enter “SideArm,” a robot arm that fits in a shipping container and can snag a drone right out of the sky.
War takes a toll. And in Washington, former warships may take a toll as well--from drivers and motorists. As part of the state highway budget passed yesterday, Washington is funding a study on the feasibility of turning old Vietnam-era warships into a unique, destination toll bridge that spans the Sinclair Inlet. In the words of Washington State Representative Jesse Young, the bridge will serve as "a testimony and a legacy memorial to our greatest generation."
Apart from America’s nuclear arsenal, the 10 active aircraft carriers of the U.S. Navy are the most powerful single units of military might in the world. While the combined ranges of ships and planes mean carriers can place bombs on most of the Earth’s surface, the ships are still limited to operating in water. Air, however, covers all of the earth, and a new request from DARPA wants to bring carriers to anywhere there’s sky.
Delivered last Friday, Taiwan’s new twin-hulled Tuo Jiang weighs 551 tons, carries 41 crewmembers, and is designed specifically to destroy aircraft carriers. Classified as a “missile corvette,” it’s the Republic of China’s answer to the People’s Republic Of China'sgrowing carrier fleet. Oh, and it isalso stealth.
Getting aircraft into the sky typically requires a dedicated launching area—usually a flat, sturdy surface. These are hard to come by in the middle of the ocean. Aircraft carriers are one way to bring runways to the sea, but they are giant and expensive, and they must travel with a full fleet for protection and support. What if there were a simpler way? Freed from the constraints of an onboard pilot and static wings, the Naval Research Laboratory's XFC drone is launched from a tube and assembles its wings midair. Four years ago, the XFC flew for six hours straight. Yesterday, it launched from a submerged submarine for the first time.
Defense Tech has an intriguing story about the next generation of aircraft carriers. One of the bigger innovations in the upcoming Ford-class of carriers: They're designed to carry drones, with a new, electricity-intensive launch system replacing the steam catapults that sent carrier-borne fighters into the sky during the jet age. Designing carriers in this way reaffirms that unmanned drones are a crucial part of naval aviation in coming years.
Self-piloted drones may be able to land or fly almost anywhere - even aircraft carriers - but they need some complex navigation skills to do it, including the somewhat existential ability to know where they are in the world. But this is difficult without some type of onboard relative positioning system. A new algorithmic project at MIT straps netbook computer parts to a specially designed, laser-equipped airplane that can find itself and navigate tight spaces safely.