Sikorsky is proceeding with the second phase of flight-testing for its Sara demonstrator, an S-76 fitted with special equipment to expand operational automation.
Late last year the aircraft completed a fully autonomous mission that demonstrated Sara can take off from an airport, fly a pattern and return to the airport without any special sensors in the loop. Now fitted under the fuselage nose section is a lidar and “a variety of camera-type devices looking at different wavelengths,” Igor Cherepinsky, chief engineer for Sikorsky’s autonomy program, told AIN. “The sensors allow Sara to fly at full speed, avoid obstacles, select landing zones and do other tasks that are perceptually intensive.”
The Sara S-76–fitted with fly-by-wire controls–has demonstrated autonomous site selection and landing with this new sensor equipment. The mission operator specifies goals (without waypoints) and the software program factors in wind and vehicle constraints while generating the flight path. Sikorsky plans to conduct a full flight with sensors in the loop in the coming weeks, followed by flight in obstacle-rich environments and shipboard and brownout landings.
Production hardware will be no larger than conventional avionics, Cherepinsky predicts, and close in price to a high-end autopilot.