Stratford-based Sikorsky Aircraft and the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency completed the first uncrewed, autonomous helicopter flight Feb. 5.
DARPA and the Lockheed Martin company collaborated on a 30-minute flight of a Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk at the U.S. Army's Fort Campbell base in Kentucky.
The flight included lift off, navigation through a simulated cityscape, route re-planning, and landing, all with a virtual crew monitoring the mission.
The Black Hawk was modified with Sikorsky’s MATRIX Technology and other advancements from the DARPA Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System program.
Lead test pilot Benjamin Williamson said the technology allows pilots to switch from autonomous to piloted control with "the flip of a switch."
"This will support autonomous flight during a wide range of missions such as flight in degraded visual environments and confined areas," he said.
"Most critically, ALIAS will be capable of automatically detecting and preventing dangerous situations that lead to accidents, thereby saving lives.”
The Black Hawk was retrofitted with MATRIX autonomy technologies, which form the core of ALIAS, a flexible, extensible automation architecture for existing manned aircraft that enables safe reduced crew operations.
“With reduced workloads, pilots can focus on mission management instead of the mechanics," ALIAS program manager Stuart Young said.
"This unique combination of autonomy software and hardware will make flying both smarter and safer.
"The Army will have much more operational flexibility. This includes the ability to operate aircraft at all times of the day or night, with and without pilots, and in a variety of difficult conditions, such as contested, congested, and degraded visual environments.”
The technology is currently being incorporated into commercial and military fixed-wing aircraft.