RQ-21

NAVAL AIR STATION PATUXENT RIVER, MARYLAND: Most drones land the same way manned airplanes do, on a runway. But what if you don’t have a runway? Well, with an unmanned aerial vehicle called the RQ-21, Marines can string up a cable and snag the drone out of the sky.

The military and unmanned aerial vehicle maker Insitu, a subsidiary of Boeing, pioneered the “skyhook” technique with a small drone called Scan Eagle that has seen wide service in Afghanistan and Iraq. But now they’re scaling that technology up with the larger and more capable Insitu Integrator, being developed for the Marines and Navy under the designation RQ-21A. Scan Eagle weighs 44 pounds, about as much as the average four-year-old boy; Integrator weighs 135 lbs, as much as a 14-year-old. That 300 percent increase in weight is literally a stretch for the crane-and-cable mechanism that snatches the drone out of the air in mid-flight. Keep reading →