The U.S. Army is always on the hunt for new and more efficient ways of conducting combat operations, and like it or not, casualties are a nearly unavoidable aspect of war. Advancements that could buy a severely wounded soldier minutes, or even seconds, could mean the difference between saving a life and losing one – and as a result, no idea is too unusual to warrant consideration.
The Army’s Medical Research and Materiel Command is now considering a dramatic shift from traditional methods employed to evacuate wounded soldiers, replacing manned aircraft or vehicles with what sort of looks like a baby CH-47 Chinook – a twin rotored drone with just enough room inside to fit one injured soldier.
The DP-14 Hawk, made by Dragonfly Pictures Inc. is a twin-prop drone aircraft that can be broken down to fit in a common utility van and reassembled in as little as thirty minutes. Once put together, the craft can fly at speeds of around eighty miles per hour and carry a payload internally or hung beneath of four hundred and thirty pounds. It can be controlled via a remote interlink, or allowed to complete missions autonomously, relying on the onboard computer and GPS navigation system to direct it from one point to another.
The inside of the Hawk may look a bit cramped – and for good reason. It boasts a total of twenty-three cubic feet of space, which equates to little more than six feet by twenty inches for a horizontal passenger. The compartment may be snug, but the Hawk’s rapid deployment capabilities and respectable range make it a solid contender not only for evacuation of wounded soldiers, but for tactical resupply of troops in the field. The distance the Hawk can cover is very much tied to the weight it’s carrying – allowing for 2.4 hours of full speed travel (at around 82 miles per hour) when fully loaded, and 4.3 hours while carrying a load of only a hundred pounds.
If a piece of equipment needs rapid deployment that is heavier than the Hawk can manage, it has been designed to work in tandem with other Hawk aircraft to carry heavier loads beneath a group of small choppers.
The Hawk was designed to withstand cross winds of up to 40 knots, with “one millisecond autopilot cycling and rapid pitch correction during autonomous cargo offloading.” This allows the Hawk to provide precision cargo drops within less than three meters of the target location in real-world flight conditions.
The onboard vehicle management computer uses a LIDAR (Light Imaging Detection and Ranging) scanning to analyze terrain for roughness, pitch, grade and obstacles and determines the most feasible landing location based on its proximity to its target, then it uses a variety of landing gear options to ensure it is stable and stationary once it touches down.
Other applications in mind for the Hawk are “precision agriculture, farming, wildfire life & safety, search and rescue, survey and expedition resupply, (and) marine operations,” according to Dragonfly Pictures Inc.
Whether or not we’ll see the Hawk in use to ferry supplies or wounded soldiers about the battlefield any time soon has yet to be determined, but like most programs of this nature, elements of the Hawk could see use in the battlefield of the future. Rapidly deployable, low cost alternatives to existing platforms could make combat evacuations or resupply missions significantly easier, improving the likelihood of being able to keep our soldiers in the fight when necessary, and getting them to medical attention when they need it.
Even if it is a claustrophobic ride.
Images courtesy of Dragonfly Pictures