In cooperation with the U.S. Army, Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., successfully flew an unmanned Black Hawk helicopter recently in an effort to provide autonomous cargo delivery to soldiers on the battlefield.
The Optionally Piloted Black Hawk Demonstrator, known as Sikorsky’s Manned/Unmanned Resupply Aerial Lifter program, conducted the first flight demonstration on March 11 at Sikorsky’s Development Flight Center. The demonstration was conducted through the use of Sikorsky’s Matrix Technologies and advanced Ground Control Station Technologies.
“The autonomous Black Hawk helicopter provides the commander with the flexibility to determine crewed or un-crewed operations, increasing sorties while maintaining crew rest requirements,” Mark Miller, Sikorsky Vice President of Research & Engineering, said in a recent press release. “This allows the crew to focus on the more ‘sensitive’ operations, and leaves the critical resupply missions for autonomous operations without increasing fleet size or mix.”
The demonstrator achieved autonomous hover and flight operations while under the control of a man-portable, Ground Control Station, demonstrating the capability for expeditionary operations and critical cargo resupply.
The Manned/Unmanned Resupply Aerial Lifter, or MURAL, program is a cooperative effort between the Army Aviation Development Directorate, Army Utility Helicopters Project Office and Sikorsky. The project office is providing access to two UH-60MU Black Hawk helicopters and Sikorsky is applying the technology it has developed with Internal Research and Development funding.
Sikorsky has been developing the technology since 2007, and signed a Cooperative Research & Development Agreement with the U.S. Army in 2013 to advance the program to a formal effort to demonstrate the full-authority, flight-control system. The effort includes demonstration of expeditionary ground control systems and precision control.
The Army Aviation Development Directorate’s mission is to “focus on developing, demonstrating and applying critical technologies that enhance the capability, affordability, readiness and safety of Department of Defense aviation systems,” said Dr. William Lewis, Director, ADD. “The optionally piloted Black Hawk helicopter functionality stands to bring added value to DoD aviation systems, through the innovations being tested on the Black Hawk helicopter in the MURAL program.”
Sikorsky introduced its Matrix Technology, a major research program, in July 2013 to develop, test and field systems and software that will improve significantly the capability, reliability and safety of flight for autonomous, optionally piloted, and piloted vertical take-off and landing aircraft.
The Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft flew its first flight on July 26, 2013 and continues to explore new functionality in that portion of the program.