US Army pilots fly autonomous Sikorsky helicopter
Lockheed Martin called it a “first-of-its-kind” demonstration.
US Army pilots exercised supervised autonomy to direct an optionally-piloted helicopter (OPV) through a series of missions to demonstrate technology developed by Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
The series of flights marked the first time that non-Sikorsky pilots operated the Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft (SARA), a modified S-76B commercial helicopter, as an OPV aircraft.
"Future vertical lift aircraft will require robust autonomous and optimally-piloted systems to complete missions and improve safety," said Chris Van Buiten, vice president, Sikorsky Innovations.
"We could not be more thrilled to welcome Army aviators to the cockpit to experience first-hand the reliability of optimally-piloted technology developed by the innovative engineers at Sikorsky and DARPA. These aviators experienced the same technology that we are installing and testing on a Black Hawk that will take its first flight over the next several months."
The SARA aircraft was operated at different times by pilots on board and pilots on the ground. Sikorsky's MATRIX Technology autonomous software and hardware executed various scenarios including automated take-off and landing; obstacle avoidance; automatic landing zone selection; and Contour Flight, where the helicopter flew low to the ground and behind trees.
The recent Mission Software Flight Demonstration was a collaboration with the US Army's Aviation Development Directorate, Sikorsky and DARPA, as part of DARPA's Aircrew Labour In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) programme. The Army and DARPA are working with Sikorsky to improve and expand ALIAS capabilities developed as a tailorable autonomy kit for installation in both fixed-wing aeroplanes and helicopters.
Over the next few months, Sikorsky will for the first time fly a Black Hawk equipped with ALIAS. The company is working closely with the Federal Aviation Administration to certify ALIAS/MATRIX technology so that it will be available on current and future commercial and military aircraft.
"We're demonstrating a certifiable autonomy solution that is going to drastically change the way pilots fly," said Mark Ward, Sikorsky Chief Pilot, Stratford, Conn. Flight Test Center.
"We're confident that MATRIX Technology will allow pilots to focus on their missions. This technology will ultimately decrease instances of the number one cause of helicopter crashes: Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT)."