Friday, 1 July 2016

These aren't the drones you're looking for

Just look at this ridiculous flying machine:

The Convair XFY Pogo tail-sitter was an experiment in vertical takeoff and landing. The Pogo had delta wings and three-bladed contra-rotating propellers powered by a ... turboprop engine. It was intended to be a high-performance fighter aircraft capable of operating from small warships.
Which seemed like a good idea at the time (the 1950s).

Unfortunately, "Landing the XFY-1 was difficult, as the pilot had to look over his shoulder while carefully working the throttle to land", so the project came to nothing.

But maybe the Pogo wasn't ridiculous - just ahead of its time.

Because there's a now a Pogo for the 21st Century. Called the TERN (Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node), it does away with the problem of tricky, neck ache-inducing landings by doing away with the neck, along with the rest of the pilot.

The company building the TERN prototype, Northrop, believe that "modern precision relative navigation and other technologies" can handle backwards landings that would overtax a human pilot and, given the sort of stuff we've seen drones doing in recent years, I wouldn't bet against the robot reboot.

No more complicated thrust vectoring or hauling the dead weight of a lift fan through the sky. No more over-complicated, compromised money-pit design abominations like the  F-35. Just thrust going in one fixed direction and you turn the whole ship round depending on whether you're going up, flying horizontally, or coming down.

Bur why the gratuitous Star Wars reference in the title? Well, if this idea works, somebody's going to want one of those stealthy, jet-powered, manta ray-shaped drones to take off and land this way. But a flat, triangular flying wing sitting on its tail isn't a stable shape. Maybe if the wings were split, they could hinge out into a sort of "x" shape for sitting on the ground, take off and landing. Remind you of anything?

Although what I'm picturing here would operate in exactly the opposite way to its fictional counterpart - in the Star Wars universe, the wings are folded flat on the ground and only open out in flight, in order to do whatever the hell they're supposed to be for (apart from making the rebel craft look distinctively different from the baddies' ones).