Breakthrough Unmanned Helo System Flies
Piasecki Aircraft and Carnegie Mellon University have successfully flight tested a new navigation and sensor package on an unmanned Boeing AH-6 Little Bird helicopter that allows it to avoid low-altitude obstacles, select suitable unmapped landing sites and land using self-generated approach paths. The Army-funded system was developed to allow unmanned helicopters to evacuate or resupply soldiers from combat zones. However, it could also be used as a pilot aid for military and civilian helicopters, particularly EMS units, to avoid power lines and safely select unimproved landing sites near a given set of coordinates, even in low visibility such as brown-outs. During tests, the system was able to identify landing sites in cluttered environments, detect and maneuver around obstacles up to 60 feet high at speeds greater than 20 knots and identify power lines over desert terrain. The system uses an inertial sensing and advanced laser scanner that can look forward and down paired with mapping and obstacle-avoidance software that builds 3-D maps of the ground and finds obstacles–including people, vegetation and chain-link fences–in the helicopter’s path.