US: Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works advanced development unit is building an unmanned vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) air vehicle under the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) programme to demonstrate a cargo UAV capable of carrying interchangeable mission payloads. DARPA plans to fly the prototype in 2015. “The so-called Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System (ARES) programme has entered its third and final phase, which involves designing and building the prototype. The air vehicle design calls for twin, tilting ducted fans to provide hovering and landing capabilities with rapid conversion to high-speed cruise flight similar to small aircraft. The flight module, as DARPA calls it, would deliver and retrieve several different types of detachable mission modules, each designed for specific missions such as cargo resupply, casualty extraction and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. The flight module would have a useful load of up to 3,000 pounds, more than 40 percent the takeoff gross weight of the aircraft. Soldiers could direct the flight modules using apps on their mobile phones or ruggedized tablets,” said a spokesperson from DARPA.
“ARES would make organic and versatile VTOL capability available to many more individual units. Our goal is to provide flexible, terrain-independent transportation that avoids ground-based threats, in turn supporting expedited, cost-effective operations and improving the likelihood of mission success,” said Ashish Bagai, DARPA program manager.