The Pentagon’s bleeding edge technology development office, DARPA, and Georgia Institute of Technology are working on a way to solve one of the biggest limitations of helicopters: landing on grades and rough, uneven or even moving terrain.

Tipping rotor discs into a steep hillsides, rocky terrain and rocking ships are all challenges helicopter pilots can face. A level landing is always the goal, but doing so in some extreme cases takes super-human coordination. Other times, it can result in disaster. That’s why having the helicopter’s landing gear adapt to the terrain, instead of having the pilot adapt to it, is so attractive.

Robotic Landing Gear to make this happen is already flying on an RC model helicopter, and in the not-so-distant future, it could be sized to manned helicopter proportions. Such a system could allow helicopters to access many areas they cannot today, vastly opening up landing options around the globe.

The idea behind the Robotic Landing Gear is to replace standard skids or wheeled landing gear with an adaptive system via the use of automatically articulating legs. These legs can fold in tight to the fuselage while cruising, then during landing, they splay out and “feel” for the ground as the helicopter descends. Force sensors tied to a central computer determine the right angle for each leg so that the helicopter stays as level as possible relative to the terrain.

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DARPA says the landing gear could be adapted to many helicopters without a huge impact on the craft’s weight and will allow helicopters to land on slopes up to 20 degrees. Supposedly, it will also reduce the risk of damage from hard landings by 80 percent and allow helicopters to land on pitching and rolling ship decks without a winch system. Additionally, many boulder strewn landscapes and disaster areas would be accessible with a robotic gear-equipped helicopter that can currently only be access via winching people up and down, if at all.

DARPA and their partners at the Georgia Institute Of Technology will continue sub-scale tests, and if they continue to go well, we will hopefully see this potentially game-changing technology on a manned chopper soon.

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Source: DARPA


Contact the author at Tyler@jalopnik.com.