Sikorsky and the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) tested the capacity of the iconic UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter to fly completely autonomously, with the integration of a new command system.
The 30-minute test-flight took place on February 5, 2022, at the U.S. Army installation of Fort Campbell, Kentucky. After completing the pre-flight check list on its own, the aircraft, tail number N60-OPV, took off from the runway without any human on board.
The helicopter then carried out a series of maneuvers to demonstrate its flight capability. “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,” Sikorsky explained. “All the while, on-board sensor simulation provides real-time obstacle data.”
Finally, the Black Hawk landed and shut itself off, allowing pilots to switch back the controls to manual for taxiing.
The Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS), developed by DARPA, intends to assist pilots during their missions, especially during degraded flight conditions or system failures. Aircraft equipped with this system would be called ‘optionally piloted vehicle’ (OPV).
The Black Hawk’s first semi-autonomous flight took place in March 2021, with pilots onboard setting waypoints from a tablet that the helicopter reached on its own.