General Atomics has filed a patent for a system that enables in-flight recovery of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The system involves deploying a towline from a host aircraft to capture and secure a target UAV using deployable flaps. The host aircraft then retracts the towline using a winch system to pull the target UAV towards it. The patent also includes a pylon with a towline connector to secure the target UAV to the host aircraft. Multiple target UAVs can be deployed and recovered using this system. GlobalData’s report on General Atomics gives a 360-degree view of the company including its patenting strategy. Buy the report here.

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According to GlobalData’s company profile on General Atomics, Welding robots was a key innovation area identified from patents. General Atomics's grant share as of June 2023 was 1%. Grant share is based on the ratio of number of grants to total number of patents.

In-flight recovery system for unmanned aerial vehicles

Source: United States Patent and Trademark Office(USPTO). Credit: General Atomics

A recently filed patent (Publication Number: US20230150691A1) describes a system for securing a target aircraft to a host aircraft. The system includes a pylon attached to the underside of the host aircraft's wing, a motorized winch supported within the pylon, and a towline carried by the winch. The winch is designed to pay out and reel in the towline. The system also includes a plurality of fleet pulleys supported within the pylon, an upper sheave, and a towline connector on the towline. The towline extends from the upper sheave and exits the aircraft, with an end fitting on the distal end of the towline near the towline connector. The motorized winch is configured to reel in the towline and target aircraft to secure the towline connector with the host aircraft.

Additional features of the system include two horizontally oriented fleet pulleys, a vertically oriented upper sheave, and a latch block to secure the towline connector. The winch includes a cartridge through which the towline extends, allowing for a total angle of at least thirty degrees for the portion of the towline between the winch and the fleet pulleys. The system also includes one or more sway bars attached to the pylon to laterally stabilize the secured target aircraft, and a bottom sheave to guide vertical movement of the towline connector.

The target aircraft in this system may have flaps that deploy and stow, creating an opening through which the towline is received. The flaps then stow to guide the end fitting into a recess of the target aircraft.

In addition to the system, the patent also describes a method of securing a target aircraft to a host aircraft. The method involves deploying the towline from the winch, stabilizing the towline as it exits the winch, guiding the towline downward to exit the host aircraft, reeling in the towline using the winch after it has secured with the target aircraft, stabilizing the target aircraft under the host aircraft's wing, and operating a latching system to secure the target aircraft with the host aircraft.

Overall, this patent describes a system and method for securely attaching a target aircraft to a host aircraft using a motorized winch, towline, and various pulleys and sheaves. The system includes features to ensure stability and secure attachment between the two aircraft.

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GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.

GlobalData Patent Analytics tracks bibliographic data, legal events data, point in time patent ownerships, and backward and forward citations from global patenting offices. Textual analysis and official patent classifications are used to group patents into key thematic areas and link them to specific companies across the world’s largest industries.