Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Testing for Autonomous Helicopter Moving Forward

Testing for Autonomous Helicopter Moving Forward: Sikorsky will demonstrate the first flight of an autonomous UH-60A Black Hawk helicopter by the fourth quarter of 2016, said company executives.

The test will take “the lessons learned of what we did on the UH-60M upgrade and what we are doing on other areas of our product line … [to make] it a more affordable, lower cost solution,” said David Zack, vice president of the U.S. government division for Sikorsky Defense Systems and Services.

In collaboration with the Army, the company first flew an optionally-piloted UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter — the manned/unmanned resupply aerial lifter, or MURAL — on March 11, 2014 as part of a demonstration in West Palm Beach, Florida. The test used a prototype fly-by-wire UH-60M and incorporated the company’s Matrix technology, which improves the capability, reliability and safety of autonomous, optionally piloted and piloted vertical take-off and landing aircraft. For the unmanned UH-60A, the company has to retrofit fly-by-wire systems on the older aircraft and then add autonomy systems.

Similar to the UH-60M test, the unmanned UH-60A will demonstrate the ability to perform a cargo-lifting mission while being controlled from the ground.

Jeff Hanke, director of Army and Air Force programs for Sikorsky Defense Systems and Services, said the autonomy kit that will be added to the UH-60A is key to reducing the Army’s costs and logistical footprint. By “having a retrofittable kit that allows you to take an existing UH-60A or L and turn it into an autonomous vehicle, you’re not adding to the footprint that the U.S. Army already has, and the brunt of the cost of these systems is the logistics footprint.”