Army’s Pilotless Black Hawk Highlights Emerging Technology in Demo Flight



Sikorsky pilots working with Army scientists have demonstrated optionally piloted flight technology on an S-70 Black Hawk, highlighting a future in which the service’s next-generation helicopters may fly autonomously in combat.

A contender in the Army Future Vertical Lift, or FVL, program, Sikorsky demonstrated the supervised autonomy capabilities of the Black Hawk — which was equipped with the company’s Matrix autonomous flight software and hardware — under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Aircrew Labor In-cockpit Automation System, or ALIAS, effort.

Sikorsky’s test pilot used a special control tablet to oversee the demo as the aircraft conducted an autonomous takeoff, avoided two simulated obstacles and landed by itself, according to a March 29 Sikorsky news release.

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“Through the ALIAS program and our unique combination of autonomy software and hardware, we are bringing our customers one step closer to safer and smarter flight,” Igor Cherepinsky, director of Sikorsky Innovations, said in the release. “Our end goal is to transition this technology to help address emerging mission requirements, including those outlined in the U.S. Army’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program.”

Sikorsky, part of Lockheed Martin Corp., developed its Raider X prototype helicopter for the Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft, or FARA, effort, to replace the AH-64 Apache. And a team from Sikorsky-Boeing developed the Defiant X to compete in the service’s Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft, or FLRAA, effort, which is designed to replace the UH-60 Black Hawk.

The autonomous flight technology demonstration is part of an effort to reduce the workload on Army aviators flying extremely complex missions on the future battlefield, according to Jay Macklin, business development director for Sikorsky Future Vertical Lift.

“We designed Raider X and Defiant X to compete in highly complex … environments; our advancements in automation and autonomy will enable aircrews to focus on the mission, not just flying the aircraft,” Macklin said in the release. “Our approach reduces pilot and crew workload by offloading certain mission tasks, enabling better situational awareness of the overall mission while providing extended operational capability and increased safety.”

Sikorsky plans to further develop its Matrix autonomous flight technology under Phase III of the DARPA ALIAS program through 2022, according to the release.

The effort has the potential to transform how aviators and aircrews manage sophisticated helicopters and maintain situational awareness in limited visibility conditions, according to the release.

“Our approach to autonomy is both full-spectrum and human-centric,” Sikorsky’s chief pilot, Mark Ward, said in the release. “As this demonstration showed, aerial vehicles equipped with MATRIX technology will be capable of operating autonomously from takeoff to landing, something we are capable of doing routinely now.”

— Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

Related: Sikorsky Prepares to Test Autonomous Version of Army’s Black Hawk Helicopter

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