Army Pilots Get First Look at Autonomous Helicopter

Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft using MATRIX technology in flight

U.S. Army pilots recently were given the opportunity to control optionally-piloted helicopters (OPVs) in a series of missions designed to demonstrate new autonomous technology developed by Sikorsky and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The test flights marked the first time that anyone outside of Sikorsky piloted the Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft (SARA) as an OPV. The exercise allowed pilots to experience the same technology being testing on Black Hawk helicopters, which have been a staple for the Army since the late 1960s.

The SARA craft has more than 300 hours of autonomous flight, and represent the third phase of DARPA's Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) program. Sikorsky's MATRIX Technology, which is installed on SARA, executed a number of scenarios, including automated take-off and landing, obstacle avoidance, automatic landing zone selection, and contour flight, where the helicopter follows the elevation of the land and terrain.

Testing will continue with Black Hawks equipped with ALIAS over the coming months, with the company working with the Federal Aviation Administration to certify the technology for use on current and future commercial and military aircraft. The primary focus is that this technology will ultimately decrease instances of the number one cause of helicopter crashes: Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT).

Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

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