Sikorsky is proceeding with flight-testing more unmanned “autonomous” helicopters, and is planning to add a Black Hawk to its Autonomy Program next year.
The U.S. rotorcraft manufacturer’s Matrix Technology program launched in mid-2013, giving helicopters various degrees of automation. To date, the only Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft (SARA) to fly is a modified S-76. It features fly-by-wire controls and a number of sensors and has completed autonomous takeoffs and landings. It has also performed flights where it avoided obstacles and autonomously selected a landing zone.
“SARA has, to date, flown more than 75 hours of engaged, unmanned time with Matrix technology, and we have a robust schedule to continue to expand the flight test envelope,” said Igor Cherepinsky, chief engineer for Sikorsky’s Autonomy Program, in mid-May.
In 2014, Sikorsky acquired a Black Hawk military helicopter, which it is now inducting it into the program. The idea is to “further our efforts to demonstrate the optionally piloted capabilities in a military platform,” Cherepinsky went on. Reconfiguration of the aircraft is in process, and the Black Hawk is scheduled to fly “sometime in late 2016.”
Sikorsky has been involved in related programs with the U.S. Army and Darpa (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency). The former effort involves UAV-UGV (unmanned air vehicle-unmanned ground vehicle) collaboration. Darpa, meanwhile, awarded Sikorsky a contract in the Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (Alias) program, which envisions a “tailorable, drop-in, removable kit” that would incorporate high levels of automation in existing aircraft, enabling a smaller crew.