'Angry Bird' netflinger projectile brings down drug ultralights

US airforce boffins battle robot smugglers

US air force boffins have developed a net-flinging weapon dubbed "Angry Bird", for the purpose of bringing down drug-smuggling ultralight aircraft crossing the Mexican border without using lethal force.

Aviation Week reports on the remarkable development, which was achieved as part of the 2011 Commander's Challenge competition held by the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). The teams competing in the challenge were set the problem of bringing down ultralights without harm to the occupants, as would be required in a law-enforcement rather than a military scenario.

Success in developing the necessary non- or less-lethal weaponry was judged – as one really should expect – by obtaining a small fleet of robotic unmanned ultralights and trying out the competing weapons on them in flight.

According to Av Week's report, two teams of airforce boffins competed. One, from Eglin airbase in Florida, developed the Angry Bird, which can be shot from a standard 40mm grenade launcher (either handheld or helicopter-mounted). It deploys a net which can tangle up the propellor of a fleeing ultralight at ranges up to 1,000 feet, so forcing the machine to land.

The second team, from Wright-Patterson airbase in Ohio, built an unnamed drone which pursues an ultralight and rams itself into the propellor under camera guidance, similarly forcing a landing. Apparently this method performed better in tests, vanquishing the Angry Bird and sending the prize to Ohio.

Reportedly no less than eight robotised ultralights were supplied by contractor Brock Technologies for use as targets in the competition, which took place over recent weeks at Edwards airbase in California.

The competition wasn't just a big boffins' lark, apparently, as the AFRL told Av Week that technologies from both teams will be incorporated into an operational ultralight-stopper which will be handed over to the US Border Patrol.

Regular Reg readers will no doubt recall that this isn't the first effort along these lines by the US air force: they, like us, will be recalling the poorly named CULAPS ultralight/paraglider-nobbling netflinger rifle of 2009, initiated by the air force security police for use in guarding military bases against fabric-winged intruders. (At the time we suggested the designator Rapid-Ejection Tangler Interdiction versus Aerial Raiding Intruder Undesirables System – RETIARIUS). ®

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