An autonomous Black Hawk helicopter has cracked on with its latest test flight and shown it safely and reliably perform cargo resupply missions – all without the need for human pilots.
In mid-October, the helicopter managed to fly without any crew onboard for 133 kilometers (83 miles) around the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona while carrying 400 units of real and simulated blood weighing 226 kilograms (500 pounds). Part of this journey even involved the helicopter descending into a valley as low as 61 meters (200 feet) above ground level.
In another flex last month, the crewless helicopter lifted off with a 1,179-kilogram (2,600-pound) load attached to a 12-meter (40-foot) sling and flew at 100 knots for 30 minutes toward a landing zone.
A training mission was also designed to simulate the evacuation of an injured soldier, in which a model of a causalty was loaded on the helicopter and flown to a field hospital.
“We showed how the optionally piloted Black Hawk helicopter can be flown by human pilots, who then land the aircraft and simply flip a switch to activate flight with zero pilots,” Igor Cherepinsky, Sikorsky Innovations director, said in a statement.
“With no humans on board, the aircraft flew at 100 knots, to deliver a large quantity of blood product, an external cargo load, and rescue a casualty,” added Cherepinsky.
The project for the US Army is a collaboration between Sikorsky, a company owned by Lockheed Martin, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The latest round of flights comes hot off the heels of the helicopter’s first successful flight back in February 2022.
The vehicle manages to fly autonomously using DARPA’s ALIAS (Aircrew Labor In-cockpit Automation System) project and Sikorsky’s MATRIX technology, a system of software and hardware components that allow helicopters and fixed-wing planes to fly with varying levels of autonomy.
If further tests go well, the developers believe this technology has the power to revolutionize the battlefield.
“The potential for ALIAS to transform warfare is unlimited, whether we are talking about unmanned or manned platforms. By reducing workload, increasing safety, enabling new missions, these demonstrations show what ALIAS has to offer for transition to our services,” Dr Stuart Young, the DARPA ALIAS Program Manager, said in a statement following the February flight.