In cooperation with the US Army, Sikorsky Aircraft, a subsidiary of United Technologies has successfully demonstrated optionally piloted flight of a BLACK HAWK helicopter, a significant step toward providing autonomous cargo delivery functionality to the US Army.
|Optionally Piloted Black Hawk Demonstrator Helicopter Takes Successful First Flight (Photo: Sikorsky)|
The Optionally Piloted BLACK HAWK (OPBH) Demonstrator, known as Sikorsky’s Manned/Unmanned Resupply Aerial Lifter (MURAL) programme, conducted the successful first flight demonstration on 11 March 2014 at Sikorsky’s Development Flight Center. The demonstration was conducted through the use of Sikorsky’s MATRIX technologies and advanced Ground Control Station (GCS) technologies.
The OPBH demonstrated autonomous hover and flight operations while under the control of a man-portable GCS, demonstrating the capability for expeditionary operations and critical cargo resupply.
“The autonomous BLACK HAWK helicopter provides the commander with the flexibility to determine crewed or un-crewed operations, increasing sorties while maintaining crew rest requirements. This allows the crew to focus on the more ‘sensitive’ operations, and leaves the critical resupply missions for autonomous operations without increasing fleet size or mix,” said Mark Miller, Sikorsky Vice President of Research & Engineering.
The MURAL Programme is a cooperative effort between the US Army Aviation Development Directorate (ADD), the US Army Utility Helicopters Project Office (UH PO), and Sikorsky. The UH PO is providing access to two UH-60MU BLACK HAWK helicopters and Sikorsky is applying the technology it has developed with Internal R&D funding.
Sikorsky has been developing the technology since 2007, and signed a Cooperative R&D Agreement (CRADA) with the US Army in 2013 to advance the program to a formal effort to demonstrate the full flexibility and value of a full authority flight control system. The effort includes demonstration of expeditionary ground control systems and precision control. Sikorsky introduced its MATRIX technology, a major research programme, in July 2013 to develop, test and field systems and software that will improve significantly the capability, reliability and safety of flight for autonomous, optionally piloted, and piloted VTOL aircraft. The Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft (SARA) flew its first flight on 26 July 2013 and continues to explore new functionality in that portion of the programme. Matrix aims to give rotary and fixed wing VTOL aircraft a high level of system intelligence needed to complete complex missions with minimal human oversight and at low altitudes where obstacles abound.