Aurora Demonstrates Automation Aboard Caravan

 - October 20, 2016, 11:30 AM
Aurora’s Aircraft Labor In-cockpit Automation System—aka Alias—recently concluded a round of tests aboard the company’s Cessna Caravan turboprop. The system is designed to serve as a transferable virtual copilot that can help pilots fly in multiple aircraft.

Aurora Flight Sciences recently completed another round of demonstrations of its automation technology using a Cessna Caravan. The Aircraft Labor In-cockpit Automation System (Alias) robotic technology is designed to add automation to help reduce crew operations by functioning as a second pilot in a two-crew aircraft.

The goal of the Alias program is to develop portable technology that could be used in a range of civilian and military aircraft to reduce pilot workload, improve mission performance and increase safety.

The system includes use of in-cockpit machine vision, non-invasive robotic components to actuate flight controls, a tablet-based interface, speech recognition and a “knowledge acquisition” process to transition the system to an aircraft within a 30-day timeframe.

The demonstrations, which took place in October, are being conducted under a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) contract. The demonstrations involved the Alias system conducting basic maneuvers under the supervision of a pilot. The Caravan is among three aircraft that will be used for the Alias trials. Aurora also has demonstrated the technology aboard a Diamond DA-42b and is integrating the Alias into a Bell UH-1 helicopter.

Aurora also has begun work on a product based on Alias technology that could be marketed to military and commercial customers.

 “Demonstrating our automation system on the UH-1 and the Caravan will prove the viability of our system for both military and commercial applications,” said John Wissler, v-p of research and development. “Alias enables the pilot to turn over core flight functions and direct their attention to non-flight related issues such as adverse weather, potential threats or even updating logistical plans.”

The technology is among a number of research projects ongoing at the Manassas, Va.-based company. Aurora also recently won a $2.9 million contract from NASA for continued work on the D8 aircraft, a candidate for the agency’s X-plane program that is designed to demonstrate technologies that could result in well over 50 percent efficiency gains in commercial aircraft.

NASA earlier this year announced ambitious plans to resurrect its X-plane program in its quest to research advanced aeronautics. NASA Administrator Dan Bolden estimated the program would involve five X-planes over the next decade that will flight-test new technologies and systems as well as novel aircraft and engine configurations. The D8 design, already selected for the FAA’s Continuous Lower Energy, Emissions and Noise Program (CLEEN II) study, incorporates composite manufacturing technologies in a twin-aisle, “double-bubble” wider fuselage, smaller wings and high-bypass engines integrated in the aft fuselage. The test articles built under the CLEEN II program are the same scale as the planned X-plane, providing a “building block” basis for a flight demonstrator, said Aurora.

Beyond emerging technologies, Aurora’s reach also extends to aerostructures. The company is the supplier of the horizontal tail for the Gulfstream G500 as well as several composite airframe parts for the Bell 525 Relentless helicopter program.