US Marines are testing a plywood drone

The plywood drone showcased at the Sea Air Space 2017 trade show in the USA.
Image credit: Evan Ackerman/IEEE Spectrum
Date:23 April 2017 Tags:, ,

A new plywood drone concept could lead to a cheap and disposable way to resupply Marines in hostile territory. TACAD, or TACtical Air Delivery, can deliver quarter ton payloads at ranges of up to 70 miles. The drone could even be used in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief situations, sending food and aid precisely where it’s needed.

By Kyle Mizokami

The Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, an arm of the Corps that develops new equipment, is studying TACAD as a means to resupply troops on the battlefield. TACAD is designed to be pushed out the cargo ramp of an aircraft at high altitude—say, a Marine KC-130 transport tanker. TACAD has a glide ratio of 15:1, meaning for every foot of vertical travel it glides fifteen feet horizontally. Dropped at 30,000 feet, TACAD could travel up to 85 miles—depending on weather and terrain. A GPS navigation system would then land the drone within 150 feet of its destination.

Such a gliding system could be particularly important in the Pacific, where U.S. forces are preparing for the prospect of fighting in theatres where supply lines could be cut or disrupted. Marines may someday fight within range of enemy air defences, preventing manned aircraft from getting close enough to resupply them. TACAD could be launched from beyond enemy missile range and still deliver goods to friendly troops.

TACAD is expected to have a carrying capacity of about 700 pounds, and a cargo space about the size of the inside of your refrigerator.

Another feature of the new drone is that it is designed to be essentially disposable. The drone is expected to cost between $1,500 and $3,000, and is made from ordinary plywood and steel brackets. Once landed, the contents are removed and the drone can be abandoned in place. As IEEE Spectrum points out, the current option to delivery cargo with precision is the Joint Precision Airdrop System. JPADS is expensive but reusable. TACAD, on the other hand, doesn’t have to be packed up and sent back up the supply chain to the “air wingers” to reuse.

Conflict zones aren’t the only place TACAD could be useful. Another use for TACAD is to send aid supplies to refugees near hostile forces. Similarly, the drone could deliver aid to disaster victims in areas where airports have been damaged and knocked out of service.

Full scale prototypes of the TACAD plywood drone will start flying next year.

Source: IEEE Spectrum