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To take-off or land a helicopter today needs a flat, stable surface, but that may soon change. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the US government agency responsible for advanced defense research projects is working on an articulated landing gear equipped helicopter.

With four robotic "legs" instead of normal landing gear, the helicopter can both land on, and take off from, areas with a 20° slope, more than twice current limits. How does it work? Thanks to force-sensitive contact sensors that analyse the morphology of the terrain, in real time, each leg of the landing gear is extended, or retracted, to maintain the helicopter’s fuselage horizontal. Once in flight, the four legs are folded alongside the fuselage.

With this system, developed in partnership with the Georgia Institute of Technology, helicopters could land on, or take-off from, inclined surfaces, such as rough terrain after a natural disaster, and even the moving deck of a ship in violent sea states. Another interesting fact is that this articulated landing gear would reduce by five, the risk of damage to the aircraft during hard landings.

Since the initial trials with a scale model last September, near Atlanta in the US (see the video), the Georgia Institute of Technology is undergoing continued development of the system. At present, application to real helicopters remains distant; as is the case with the Phantom Swift, a vertical take-off and landing aircraft, on which DARPA is working for the Pentagon.

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