DARPA has conducted an experimental demonstration of a new robotic landing gear system near Atlanta, offering helicopters with the ability to land on and take off from angled, irregular and moving surfaces.

The new system will be able to replace standard landing gear with four articulated, jointed legs, which can be folded up next to the helicopter’s fuselage while in flight.

Equipped with force-sensitive contact sensors in their feet, these legs will be extended during landing and uses its sensors to determine in real-time the appropriate angle, ensuring that the helicopter stays level and reduces risk of the rotor touching the landing area.

DARPA programme manager Ashish Bagai said: "The equipment mounted on an otherwise unmodified, unmanned helicopter successfully demonstrated the ability to land and take off from terrain that would be impossible to operate from with standard landing gear."

In addition to the dynamic simulation and structural analyses, the demonstration flight also offered a number of potential benefits including less risk of damage during hard landings when compared to conventional landing gear.

The new system will also offer stable landing and take-off on sloping terrain of up to 20 degrees and on craggy, boulder-strewn or otherwise irregular terrain.

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Moreover, the benefits include ship landings in violent sea states and a significant increase in capabilities with only a slight increase in landing gear weight, DARPA stated.

"The equipment successfully demonstrated the ability to land and take off from terrain that would be impossible to operate from with standard landing gear."

Funded by DARPA’s Mission Adaptive Rotor (MAR) programme, the robotic landing gear system currently undergoing continued development by the Georgia Institute of Technology.

In another development, DARPA recently launched the Gremlins programme, in a bid to demonstrate safe, reliable operations involving multiple air-launched, air-recoverable unmanned systems.

The new programme is aimed at offering US forces enhanced operational flexibility at a much lower cost.

Image: A. Photo: courtesy of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.