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11:01 AM, October 30, 2018
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US Army Black Hawk Helicopter’s Autonomous Flight Demo in 2019
Sikorsky S-76B demonstrating autonomous flight

Sikorsky and the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have begun to integrate the Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) into a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter for testing and flight demonstration of the pilot-less technology in 2019.

 “We’ve chosen the Black Hawk as the platform we want to demonstrate full integration of ALIAS type capabilities; all the circuit breakers and switches and instruments in the aircraft, so that the capability ALIAS provides to a crew member is really like a co-pilot,” said Graham Drozeski, the DARPA program manager for ALIAS. “It can fly routes, plan routes, execute emergency procedures, and do all that perfectly.”

As the biggest fleet of aircraft in the US Army and widely relied on by the Department of Defense, Drozeski said the Black Hawk is the ideal platform for ALIAS to quickly benefit service partners, a DARPA release said.

Earlier, an S-76B commercial helicopter demonstrated pilotless flight using the ALIAS system. In the mid-October demonstration the pilot carried out the maneuvers using supervised autonomy in an aircraft equipped with the ALIAS. He operated the system via novel control interceptors and a tablet he had used for the first time just three days beforehand.

 “The Army refers to this as Mission Adaptive Autonomy. It’s there when the pilot needs the aircraft to fly itself and keep it free of obstacles, so the pilot can focus on more of the mission commander type role. But the pilot is able to interact with the system to re-suggest, re-route or re-plan on the fly,” said Lt. Col. Carl Ott, chief of Flight Test for the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center's Aviation Development Directorate.

During the hour-long flight demonstration with the S-76B, Ott interfaced with the autonomous capabilities of the system to conduct a series of realistic missions, including aircrew tasks such as low-level terrain flight, confined area takeoffs and landings, landing zone selection, trajectory planning, and wire-obstacle avoidance.

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