Russia has claimed to have developed an aircraft mooring mechanism that can capture and retract unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) into the onboard compartment during the flight and also release them.
State-owned media outlet TASS reported that a mooring system for aircraft had been patented by the United Aircraft Business (UAC, a division of the Rostec state corporation).
The patent text said that the invention relates to the aviation sector and can be utilized to design aircraft equipped with uncrewed aerial vehicles. The development mainly highlighted the system and technique for catching an unmanned aerial vehicle in the aircraft’s cargo compartment and the mooring unit for this system.
The system can be used on aircraft such as fighters, transport aircraft, strategic bombers, etc. The report said the information was noted in the invention patent made available by the Federal Institute of Industrial Property.
Unmanned aerial vehicles are becoming an essential aspect of air power for countries worldwide. The capacity to dispatch drone swarms can offer any military several operational capabilities.
The US and Chinese militaries have also indicated that they are working to equip their military aircraft with similar capabilities. In November 2021, the US military launched and retrieved an unmanned X-61 Gremlins aircraft from a C-130 while it was still in flight.
That advancement represented a significant turning point in the US military’s efforts to launch drone swarms from motherships in midair. The Gremlins drone was successfully recovered midair on October 29 at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah.
Similar efforts to recover these Gremlins from the air have been made in the past but to no avail. DARPA started a series of flight tests in October 2020 to recover three Gremlins, but all nine failed attempts.
On the other hand, China recently released an animated video depicting an H-6K heavy missile carrier aircraft serving as a drone launcher for LJ-1s. In the video, an H-6K launches four LJ-1s, making a diamond shape.
Overall, such a system would considerably improve vital drone missions, including electronic warfare, surveillance, and reconnaissance.
How Will The Mooring System Work?
The Russian defense industry’s patent also includes comprehensive system capabilities details. The system’s foundation is a folding frame, a portion fastened to the spatial frame by a rotating portion and secured in the internal space of the aircraft’s cargo compartment.
The spatial frame is created by connecting two parallel beams with arcuate transverse elements. The system also contains a primary contact cone attached to the cable’s end and a mooring cone fixed to the cable’s other end, which is fixed to the winding mechanism.
When the aircraft approaches the UAV, it releases the folding frame out of the cargo hold, followed by the discharge of a cable with a cone of the primary contact at the end.
The drone would fly up to this cone, interlock with it with a contact pin, and lock into place, following which the cable would start to tighten. The developers highlighted the importance of outfitting the UAV with a cable tension management system to ensure its design tension and minimize the likelihood of swinging if this tension is exceeded.
When the UAV is placed under the frame’s arcs, which are oriented at a three-degree angle to the horizontal plane, the cone of primary contact joins the mooring cone and is fixed with grippers.
Next, the frame is tilted three degrees to the horizontal plane, which causes the locks on the frame to couple with the drone’s return components. As soon as the drone’s mooring is complete, the frame is folded, removed, and secured with locks in the retracted position before being placed in the aircraft’s cargo area.
The report, citing the document, stated, “after issuing a command to separate the unmanned aerial vehicle, the folding frame is unfolded, after which the engines of the unmanned aerial vehicle are started, its wings are opened, all necessary systems are launched, and after receiving a command about the normal functioning of all systems, the command to separate is confirmed, the locks located on the spatial frame are opened, and the unmanned aerial vehicle is separated from the folding frame.”
According to the designers, the technology can be used to detach the drone while it is flying at any height. However, during this procedure, the UAV is locked in the system by a compression mechanism rather than by a contact pin in the cone of the primary contact.