DARPA develops a fresh heavy-lift seaplane concept that can detect large waves

DARPA develops a fresh heavy-lift seaplane concept that can detect large waves ...

According to a press release from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the company wants to develop a new revolutionary seaplane capable of heavy lifting and will offer the US military strategic advantages as it expands its cargo airlift capabilities.

China announced that it was planning to testing the AG600, an amphibious cargo aircraft, the size of a Boeing 737, in order to strengthen its presence in the South China Sea. When the AG600 is functional, it will be the world''s largest amphibious aircraft capable of transporting personnel and cargo at over 300 miles (500 km) an hour.

While DARPA''s press release did not explicit state that its new aircraft, Liberty Lifter, was intended to protect citizens from flooding in the South China Sea, the agency did not mention that it was looking for "new capabilities during extended maritime operations."

Seeking improvements to current heavy lifts

The ability of the US military to transport cargo and personnel is quite efficient. DARPA, however, states that this ability at sea is vulnerable to threats and requires functional ports, which leads to transportation delays. Although traditional airlifts are relatively faster, their capability to support maritime operations is limited and is further pushed down by the requirement of long runways or payload limits.

DARPA is working on developing aircraft that can fly with the "wing-in-ground effect," which is based on runway exposure. The aircraft''s purpose is to help people offshooter/land in the water in a speedy and flexible way.

DARPA references the Soviet-era ekranoplans, which worked with the same principles but were restricted to calmer waters. Under the Liberty Lifter program, DARPA intends to develop aircraft that can tread turbulent waters too.

Challenges to Heavy Lifting at Sea

The greatest challenge when lifting at sea is evident that turbulent water is the most important obstacle. DARPA''s Liberty Lifter program wants to incorporate advanced sensors and controls that will aid the aircraft in avoiding large waves as well as handle the aero as hydrodynamic interactions that will develop as the craft undertakes take-off and landing maneuvers.

The aircraft design will also aim to create high-lift abilities at low speeds to reduce the impact of turbulent waves and even include solutions to absorb wave forces, according to a press release. Since these aircraft will likely take place in highly congested environments, DARPA intends to include anti-collision safeguards in the aircraft design.

DARPA wants the aircraft design to facilitate extended sea operations without the need for land-based maintenance.

According to the press release, DARPA isn''t looking for a revolutionary new material or approach to construct this plane. Instead, it wants the design to facilitate easy assembly with materials that are cheaper to obtain than those used in traditional aircraft manufacturing and preferable quantities.

It appears that the plane is being designed for rapid assembly and deployment at locations far-off from the mainland of the United States. However, the program is still in its early stages, and it may be years before the aircraft is taken flight.

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