Having already controlled a flying UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter remotely by a pilot on the ground, Sikorsky will now sever the wireless tether and demonstrate a fully autonomous version of the medium-twin.
Sikorsky has acquired a UH-60A to serve as a proof-of-concept demonstrator that a Black Hawk can take off, fly and land under control of onboard computers and a newly-installed fly-by-wire flight control system.
Meanwhile, the company is also prepared to begin production of the optionally piloted, autonomous Black Hawk system, says Samir Mehta, president of Sikorsky Defense Systems and Services.
The company is in the process of selecting partners to develop the autonomous conversion of the Black Hawk, Mehta says, adding the company looks “forward to working with the Department of Defense and other customers to mature this concept and its associated operations”.
In 2010, the US Army released a roadmap for the aviation branch anticipating that one-fourth of all resupply missions would be performed by unmanned aircraft, including an optionally-piloted version of the UH-60. In one concept, the army envisioned using such aircraft with pilots on certain missions, and with no pilots on more dangerous resupply missions.
In the interim, Sikorsky has been working on two, self-funded technology development efforts – the remote-controlled UH-60 called the Manned/Unmanned Resupply Aerial Lifter (MURAL) and a fully-autonomous S-76B called the Sikorsky Autonomous Research Aircraft (SARA), which was funded internally under the company’s Matrix programme.
The difference between MURAL and SARA is that a human controller on the ground piloted the UH-60, while the S-76B is equipped to take off, fly and land with no human intervention.
Sikorsky’s newest programme seeks to apply a version of the autonomous control system on SARA to the UH-60 fleet.
The acquired UH-60A is ready to be inducted into a conversion programme after a more than year-long design effort, Sikorsky says.