DARPA flew a Black Hawk helicopter with no one aboard.
The DARPA Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) program completed the first-ever flight of a UH-60A Black Hawk helicopter without anyone onboard. Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, completed 30-minutes of uninhabited flight with the optionally piloted vehicle (OPV) over the U.S. Army installation at Fort Campbell, Kentucky on February 5th. An additional uninhabited flight was also conducted on February 7th.
The Black Hawk was retrofitted with Sikorsky MATRIX™ autonomy technologies that form the core of ALIAS and can change the way aviators and aircrews execute their missions by providing assistance when flying with limited visibility or without communications.
ALIAS is a modular, extensible automation framework for current manned aircraft that allows for safe reduced crew operations and allows for high levels of automation to be added to existing aircraft. It also serves as a framework for adding customized automation and autonomy capabilities for specific missions.
“With reduced workloads pilots can focus on mission management instead of the mechanics,” said Stuart Young, program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. “This unique combination of autonomy software and hardware will make flying both smarter and safer.”
The ALIAS program has taken advantage of significant developments in aircraft automation systems, as well as equivalent advances in remotely piloted aircraft, over the last 50 years. Pilots must still manage complex interfaces and respond to unexpected situations, even in today’s most automated aircraft.
ALIAS is designed to assist in the execution of a mission from takeoff to landing, including handling contingency events such as aircraft system breakdowns autonomously. Interaction between the supervisor and the ALIAS is made easier through user-friendly interfaces.
“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.”
The Army is currently exploring potential use cases for technologies such as ALIAS, including those outlined in the U.S. Army’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program.
Within the next month, the ALIAS program plans to conduct the first flight of a fly-by-wire M-model Black Hawk at Fort Eustis, Virginia.