Military

TALONS effectively gives ships of all sizes skyscraper-tall masts

TALONS effectively gives ships...
The DARPA TALONS project recently underwent sea trials
The DARPA TALONS project recently underwent sea trials
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TALONS unit deploying airfoil
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TALONS unit deploying airfoil
TALONS unit with airfoil furled
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TALONS unit with airfoil furled
The DARPA TALONS project recently underwent sea trials
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The DARPA TALONS project recently underwent sea trials

Warships are only as effective as far as they can see, so DARPA's Towed Airborne Lift Of Naval Systems (TALONS) research effort is aiming to extend their horizons by giving them a crow's nest 1,500 ft (457 m) tall by way of a towed parafoil. A TALONS prototype recently completed sea trials off the US East Coast as part of a project to provide ships of every size with better long-distance communications and situational awareness.

When ships made the switch from sails to steam power it seemed the days of ship masts were numbered. However, masts carry more than canvas, so most vessels of any size today use masts to carry radar, antennae, and other equipment – and the masts on warships are especially tall. Part of the reason is to carry more equipment, but another important reason is to allow the ship's captain the ability to eyes and ears over as wide an area as possible.

One way of making the "mast" taller is to use aircraft, such as helicopters, but only ships the size of frigates and larger can carry them and they're very expensive to maintain and operate. Alternatives, such as the HMS Dreadnought concept of the Royal Navy warship of 2050, try to get around this with projections of high-tech tethered drones carrying sensors and laser weapons a generation from now. But DARPA is looking for a more immediate and affordable version.

TALONS unit deploying airfoil
TALONS unit deploying airfoil

TALONS is part of DARPA's Phase 1 research for Tern (Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node), a joint program with the US Navy’s Office of Naval Research. The idea is to create a cheap, fully-automated parafoil system that can be launched either automatically or by hand and towed behind vessels ranging from small boats to large ships. These parafoils would carry payloads weighing up to 150 lb (68 kg) and fly to altitudes of 500 to 1,500 ft (152 to 457 m), where they would provide intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and communications services without the need for aircraft.

A TALONS prototype was first tested on land near Tucson, Arizona in June 2014, then in December 2014 it went through mock-up testing and measurement near Assateague Island National Seashore, Virginia. In March of this year it was bench tested before moving on to sea trials in June near Baltimore, Maryland and Virginia Beach, Virginia, where it flew to 1,000 ft (304 m) using a mast-deployment technique designed for larger ships.

The trials involved over 20 flights from a variety of platforms as part of the project's goal to develop different versions of TALONS for different vessels. In Chesapeake Bay, the TALONS team tested hand-launching techniques and flew the system to 500 ft (152 m). They also tuned and programmed automatic launch-and-recovery and autopilot systems.

If the TALONS technology proves successful, DARPA says that it could transition to the US Navy.

The video below describes the TALONS project and shows some testing of the prototype.

Source: DARPA

Towed Airborne Lift of Naval Systems (TALONS) Prototype Demonstration

9 comments
spicedreams
Fantastic idea, but new? I think tethered aircraft date back to World War 1 Pretty impressed that Petty Officer Talons managed to get his parascending sponsored by DARPA though. Way to go!
englishfil
Indeed not new; during WWII the German Navy had the Focke-Achgelis FA 330 Bachstelze, a towed, manned gyroglider (rotary winged kite) that provided a means of elevated lookout for U-boats. L3 Communications reportedly tested an updated, unmanned version of the concept in 2013. However, a parafoil is mechanically simpler and, I am guessing, cheaper than a gyroglider.
saveenergy
between 1904 and 1905.Samuel Cody lifted a passenger to a new record height of 1,600 ft (488 m) using a kite. pictures of lifting kite https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man-lifting_kite & at sea - http://www.kitekam.com/images/cody_kite_observation.jpg but the Chinese had man lifting kites ~600AD
Alien
Wouldn't this also make the warships 'visible' to enemy vessels..and also more visible to aircraft?
Techtwit
What happened to all those (expensive) satellites that every ship/'plane/field unit were supposed to access for communications and situational awareness? Think somebody just won a bet by getting the government to spend money on a kite.
the.other.will
Fabric can be nearly transparent to radar & the operational versions of the TALONS will probably have bodies that are also difficult to detect with radar. A parafoil will only work if the boat or ship below is going fast enough relative to the wind. I wonder tethered drones will ultimately beat out the TALONS. An electrically powered quadrotor?
C. O. Slavens
Ha! Nothing new here. During WWII they use box kites to trail radio antennas so they could extend their range.
Slowburn
If you are going to have the para-wing you might as well use it as a sail as well. particularly if you are hunting subs.
ted96799
Wow, good stuff DARPA. Malo lava. Some civilian application too; smaller more cost effective scale for search & rescue using small ships, fish spotting for small fishing boats, etc.