The Air Force wants to rescue downed pilots with an autonomous aircraft

Every time an aircraft from the USA UU It crashes, there is a quick response: a rescue team is sent to the accident site to secure the remains and recover the pilot, but in some cases, that can be a dangerous proposal that puts additional personnel at risk of an accident or enemy fire . The Air Force wants to avoid that, or at least add a new tool at its disposal when it comes to rescuing the downed pilot. According to a request from the Air Force Research Laboratory detected by Aviation Week (through [19459003Task&Purpose), one possibility would be a stand-alone aircraft that could potentially take people away from a crash site. .

The request is called Personnel Recovery / Transportation Vehicle and was issued on May 2. In general terms, it outlines what the AFRL is looking for: a small autonomous plane with a range of at least 100 miles that can land and take off from a small footprint that is not prepared for that. At a minimum, it would transport two people, one potentially in a medical litter, and could carry up to four people along with 1,400 pounds of equipment. It has to be able to operate in all different types of terrain, with water recovery as "desired capacity but not as a requirement". Finally, you must have an audible "acoustic signature" low at takeoff and landing, and you can deploy from an airplane if necessary. The Air Force does not specify what this type of vehicle would look like, be it a stand-alone helicopter, a tilt-rotor aircraft or anything else.

The objective is essentially to develop a low-cost alternative that depends on an autonomous system, which would allow the military to deploy more of these types of vehicles, and potentially reduce the amount of time it takes to deploy and recover your objectives. The document states that this vehicle could operate in a couple of roles: "combat search and rescue, personnel recovery and special operations", which means that it could be used to recover a downed pilot, or deliver or exfiltrate a team of special forces to a target that could be too dangerous for a helicopter.

The Air Force specifically provides that this system works in one of two ways: as the Predator or Reaper drones, flown by a remote pilot, or "through minimal control inputs by the person on board" that does not they would require meaningful training. Press a button to go and the plane takes care of the rest. Basically, it would eliminate the flight crew of the aircraft: fewer people to expose to the risk in a mission.

Specifically cites the efforts of private companies in this field to develop essentially "flying cars". In the last couple of For years, several efforts have been made to develop autonomous aircraft that can transport people from one place to another, such as concepts and prototypes of companies such as Airbus, Bell, Boeing, Ehang, Kitty Hawk, Lilium, Uber, Vertical Aerospace, Volocopter and a lot of others Part of that effort and research could benefit the military.

But, as the Air Force notes, they can not simply adopt a vehicle designed for civilian use. "Many of the PAV designs have been self-limited to an electric-only speed, weight or range solution to fit certain design categories defined by the FAA to facilitate fieldwork," the application states. Military models would have to be more robust to adapt to the wide range of uses foreseen by the Air Force.

This request is only the first step in a much longer acquisition process. Responding companies will have to demonstrate that they can actually build and deliver a vehicle of this type before developing and testing the vehicle. Once those steps have been achieved, they can move on to production and, potentially, develop a model aimed at the civilian market while they are at it.

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