The Air Force Wants An Air Taxi For Downed Pilots

Drones to the rescue

The K-Max helicopter demonstrated cargo delivery with unpiloted vehicles years ago. Could rescue operations be next?

Companies around the world are developing small, short-range autonomous air taxis, and now the U.S. Air Force is looking to modify the technology for a mission of its own: rescuing downed pilots from behind enemy lines, without putting additional personnel at risk.

On May 2, the USAF Research Laboratory invited private companies to send proposals for a low-cost aerial platform—simply called a “Personnel Recovery/Transport Vehicle”—that could carry two to four military personnel (including one in a medical litter) with “no onboard traditional pilot.” The aircraft is required to be capable of flying at least a 100-mile radius at speeds above 100 knots and taking off and landing at improvised runways no longer than150 feet.

The Air Force envisions deploying the vehicle from a C-130 or H-47 Chinook. And, unlike civilian vehicles designed for cities, the military says it’s willing to accept a loud propulsion system if the trade-off is higher speed and longer range.

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