The first autonomous takeoff and landing of the Sikorsky Autonomous Research Aircraft (Sara)–an S-76 fitted with fly-by-wire controls, sensors and software for unmanned operations–is expected to take place within days, according to program manager Igor Cherepinsky. So far, he told AIN, Sara’s autonomous flights were following a trajectory to and from a hover.
Next in line for integration are decision-making software and multi-spectral sensors–lidar, visual cameras (different from usual visible-light cameras), radar and unspecified other sensors.
For civil operations, the concept, with several degrees of autonomy, could assist the pilot in making decisions. It might also help in situations such as autorotation, which could be fully automated. For single-pilot IFR operations, it would enable a helicopter to return home autonomously. An unmanned helicopter could also deliver cargo to or from offshore oil rigs, Cherepinsky suggested.
The program started three years ago and still has two years to go. Sikorsky is using a “small, agile team” for the program, much like it did with the X2 demonstrator project.