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Video: This is the changing face of rotary-wing aviation

Lockheed Martin's mysterious "Skunk Works" experimental division has become famous for game-changing aerospace breakthroughs. The SR-71 Blackbird; the F-117 Nighthawk; the U-2 Dragon Lady; and the F-80 Shooting Star all were pioneering designs that came from this legend of research and development.


Now, joining those game-changing planes could be the Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System, or ARES.

ARES, or Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System, is an unmanned VTOL flight module system designed to transport a variety of payloads. (Photo from Lockheed Martin Skunk Works)

According to BreakingDefense.com, ARES is a joint product between the Skunk Works and Piasecki Aircraft, an aerospace company out of Pennsylvania. The prototype tiltrotor drone, which features a 41-foot wingspan, a combat radius of 175 miles, and a top speed of 170 knots, is slated to take flight sometime next year.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) website notes that ARES would be able to fulfill a number of missions that previously required piloted helicopters. For instance, the resupply and MEDEVAC missions that won Ed "Too Tall" Freeman and Bruce "Snakeshit" Campbell the Medal of Honor during the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley could be carried out by ARES. Furthermore, a video on the Lockheed Martin website explains how ARES could land in a space half the size required by a traditional helicopter.

ARES has a unique design that allows it to adapt to multiple missions with interchangeable payloads; including medical evacuation units, cargo pods, a tactical ground vehicle, troops, and armed scout, reconnaissance and strike capabilities. (Photo from Lockheed Martin Skunk Works)

One other item of note is that the smaller payload will actually increase the tactical mobility of deployed troops.

"You could take a big Chinook or a [CH-53] and very efficiently drop 10,000 lbs. of stuff on a small unit, but then they're no longer mobile," Piasecki Aircraft CEO John Piasecki, told BreakingDefense.com, comparing the new logistics model that ARES could bring about to ordering products online using a smart phone. The Piasecki Aviation website on ARES notes that larger versions of the ARES could be designed, along with versions capable of operating off of ships.

ARES is not the only game-changer that could take flight next year. Bell Helicopter is introducing a pair of tiltrotors — the V-280 Valor and the V-247 Vigilant. The former is a manned tilt-rotor seen as a potential replacement for the UH-60 Blackhawk and the AH-64 Apache that has a crew of four and can carry 14 troops. The latter is an unmanned aerial vehicle that could see applications for the Marine Corps and the Navy.

Boeing and Sikorsky have teamed up to produce the SB-1 Defiant as a competitor to the V-280. The Defiant is based on the X2 prototype and the S-97 Raider, and features a pair of contra-rotating rotors on top and a pusher propeller that provide increased speed and range compared to conventional helicopters.

Compared to these protoypes, the H-13 Sioux helicopters seen delivering wounded personnel to the 4077th in the opening credits of M*A*S*H could very well look like a Sopwith Camel placed next to a F-16.