I wrote a story earlier this week (here for AWIN subscribers) on a small U.S. Air Force research contract Aurora Flight Sciences has won to work on a way for a large unmanned air vehicle to retrieve a small micro air vehicle, despite a mismatch in speed regimes that would prevent the two docking.
Aurora's concept is called Sky Cowboy, and it involves the UAV flying in a circle and deploying a cable. Aerodynamic drag slows the cable down and it forms a helix with the cable tip stabilized at its center, moving slowly enough for the MAV to dock.
It sounds whacky, but Aurora's James Peverill tells me they have tried it out on a small scale and it works. He also said the idea been tried before as a way of delivering cargo from the air. Now reader Matt Whalley has stepped forward with evidence. He says:
"The pilot who pioneered the maneuver in the 1940s was named Nate Saint. He was a missionary who used the technique to deliver goods to tribesman in the bush [link to profile]. Turns out there's been several studies of the technique since then. There was a paper at the 2006 AIAA Atmospheric Flight Mechanics conference that described the dynamics [link to paper].
Matt went a step further, and provided me with a link to a video showing Nate Saint's son, Steve Saint, performing the technique in 2006. As Matt says, what would we do without YouTube: