DARPA Wants Flying Drone Carriers

Retrofitting big bombers into drone carriers could make Cold War tech more useful for modern warfare

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First introduced in 1961, the B-52 is still an important part of the U.S. Air Force's fleet. Retrofitting some to let them carry and launch drones could give these flying fortresses even more utility. Aero Graphics, Inc./CORBIS

Over the past 20 years or so the face of war has changed. Where big guns once faced up against big armor in battles of technological prowess, most wars today are asymmetric skirmishes where drones, covert ops and strategic strikes are chosen over flying fortresses and carpet bombing. To keep up with the change in tactics, DARPA is looking for ways to retrofit hulking bombers into something a little more adaptable: flying aircraft carriers capable of launching drones.

A fleet of specialized drones working in concert can possibly do much more (and cost much less if one craft is shot down) than a fully decked-out warplane. But drones don't have the range or flight time of full-sized airplanes, says io9. Those limits have led to a search for a flying drone launcher. So, DARPA is hoping to hoping to take big bombers like the B-52, C-130 or B-1—airplanes designed for the Cold War era—and give them a new role, says io9.

Outside of launching drones, however, the idea of a flying aircraft carrier is beyond the scope of anything even close to modern technology, says Popular Science. To build a full-sized flying aircraft carrier capable of launching full-sized jets would require a ship powered by the equivalent of 70 Space Shuttle rocket boosters.