BAE Systems UAV concept

Future wars: swarms of UAVs combining rotary and fixed-wing technology

Image credit: BAE Systems

Armed forces of the future might deploy swarms of adaptable unmanned aircraft that switch between fixed-wing and ‘helicopter’ modes in mid-flight.

Combining the speed of a fixed-wing UAV with the manoeuvrability of a rotary wing has produced a concept that BAE Systems engineers believe could be a useful future technology for the battlefield. Working with MSc students from Cranfield University, the team has developed the Adaptable UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle).

These hybrids between fixed and rotary-wing aircraft would use adaptive flight control and advanced navigation and guidance software, which would allow them to take advantage of the greater speed and range afforded to fixed-wing aircraft, while being able to switch to and from rotary-wing mode for hovering and for vertical take-off and landing.

This novel technology could allow UAVs to adapt better to evolving battlefield situations and, through working together in a swarm, tackle sophisticated air defences, as well as operating in complex and cluttered urban environments.

Virtually any device could be used as a host vehicle – ship, tank or even parachute, for example. Swarms are attractive in that they can comprise many small and relatively inexpensive targets for the enemy to aim at and larger losses can be sustained.

When in rotary-wing mode the UAVs can be launched and recovered from battlefields and docked on a special pole on a suitably equipped vehicle – even a submarine. The pole constrains any sideways movement, so strong winds cannot dislodge them, preventing any damage to nearby people or equipment.

The pole’s gyro-stabilised element also ensures that it remains upright during launch or recovery, independently of the host vehicle’s orientation, which may be rolling if on a ship, or moving on a slope in the case of a land vehicle.

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