A Black Hawk helicopter has pulled off its first autonomous flight without any humans on board.
The feat comes from the US Defence Department's experimental research agency DARPA. In an announcement this week, the agency explained that a UH-60A Black Hawk completed a 30-minute uncrewed flight over the US Army installation at Fort Campbell in Kentucky on February 5 2022. Another totally autonomous flight was also conducted two days later at the camp.
The chopper carried out the autonomous flight using a piece of tech known as the Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS). DARPA, together with the Sikorsky, carried out a “supervised” autonomous test flight last year, although human pilots were still on board just in case anything went wrong. Now, however, the helicopters can complete their flights with little-to-no human involvement.
A video of the operation can be seen below.
“To demonstrate its ability to adapt to a variety of mission environments, the uninhabited BLACK HAWK navigates at typical speed and altitude through a simulated cityscape, avoiding imagined buildings while route re-planning in real time. All the while, on-board sensor simulation provides real-time obstacle data,” Lockheed Martin, who owns the company Sikorsky that manufactures the Black Hawks, said in a statement.
“The Black Hawk helicopter then autonomously executes a series of pedal turns, maneuvers and straightaways before completing a perfect landing,” it added.
DARPA has previously deployed their ALIAS technology on fixed-wing airplanes. Looking ahead, they anticipate this kind of autonomous flight technology will revolutionize the battlefields of tomorrow.
“With reduced workloads pilots can focus on mission management instead of the mechanics,” Stuart Young, program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, said in a statement. “This unique combination of autonomy software and hardware will make flying both smarter and safer.”
“With ALIAS, the Army will have much more operational flexibility,” said Young. “This includes the ability to operate aircraft at all times of the day or night, with and without pilots, and in a variety of difficult conditions, such as contested, congested, and degraded visual environments.”