Vid There's usually something wacky going on in the world of whirlycraft, and if not there's bound to be some kind of craziness brewing in military droids. This week we have both, with a proposal for a robot mono tiltrotor.
The idea is for a craft somewhat like the well-known, controversial Osprey, now in operational service after long and painful gestation. In addition to dispensing with the human crew, designers Baldwin Technologies propose to use twin coaxial rotors on a single central tilt nacelle - as opposed to the Osprey's two wingtip units.
The idea is that a nifty little Mono Tilt Rotor (MTR) could fold up neatly into a smallish cargo container. A couple of troops could unpack it and hitch it up to a pallet of battlefield supplies, and type in the delivery location. Bingo, off it goes. This company vid explains:
The vid was produced in response to a US Office of Naval Research requirement, according to helicopter guru Graham Warwick at the Ares blog.
The ONR are keen to press smallish vertical-takeoff-and-landing robocraft into service for moving stuff around the battlefield, to and from ships offshore etc. Getting things across beachheads is always difficult; and, more routinely, hauling supplies over the last leg to outposts or mobile units in places like Afghanistan is a major headache right now. Roads are subject to mines, bombs and ambushes; manned lift copters are expensive, scarce and involve risk for crews whenever they land.
So economical unmanned jobs could make a lot of sense for moving the bullets, beans and - increasingly - batteries etc that combat troops need. They'd cost a lot less to provide, and if the odd one got shot down now and then nobody would much care.
Even so, there would seem no great reason to use anything as complex as the proposed MTR - or even a rather-simpler Fire Scout robocopter, already well advanced. There is already a very cheap, very simple robot aircraft which can pack up even smaller, will launch from a ship underway or a Humvee on a road, and will drop off its load of supplies with satnav-guided accuracy before returning for more.
It is of course the robot paramotor, already in use for supply drops with US special forces.
OK, the proposed MTR, chopper or what-you-will offers better speed and range. But if US spec-ops - who operate as far from friendly support as anyone does - are already pleased with paramotor performance, realistically making the case for more could be difficult. (Though one does note that the secret supertroopers also already have some specially-pimped robot choppers.) And MTR or Fire Scout will simply never match paramotors on cost, simplicity, ability to run on ordinary diesel fuel etc.
Things like MTR and Fire Scout do, however, offer chances to funnel development cash into the mainstream aviation industry - so they might win out anyway. ®