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The quadcopter-based contraption Insitu and Hood Technology have developed for launching the ScanEagle – the flying launch and recovery system (FLARES) – should be ready for production by late 2017.

Insitu’s director of advanced development, Andrew Hayes, told Flightglobal at the AUVSI Xponential exhibition in New Orleans, Louisiana on 3 May, the four-legged, eight-rotor FLARES launching system has attracted a “tremendous” amount of interest. A baseline prototype should be ready later in the year for further developmental testing, and the production-ready variant is expected in late 2017.

With a wingspan of 3m (10ft) and maximum gross take-off weight of 22kg (49lb), the ScanEagle is normally launched from Insitu’s trailer-mounted Mark 4 catapult launcher and recovered via the SkyHook system, which uses differential GPS navigation to guide the aircraft into a trapping cable.

That equipment can be cumbersome and is not always suitable for launching UAVs from inside walled military bases, jungle canopies or an unimproved field.

“The FLARES unit starts autonomously, flies up to its release altitude, flies forward to a certain speed and releases the ScanEagle so that it autonomously takes off and goes into an orbit,” Hayes explains. “The FLARES unit returns back to where it took off and hovers waiting for the operator to give the all-clear.”

As the ScanEagle returns from its orbit, a trapping cable is hoisted up and kept tight by the quadcopter, and the ScanEagle catches it with a hooking mechanism on the leading edge of its wings.

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