By the end of this year Sikorsky hopes to demonstrate an optionally piloted resupply mission using a fly-by-wire UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter platform it plans to loan from the US Army.
Sikorsky president Jeff Pino said the Sikorsky-built automatic flight control augmentation system, packaged in an electronics box roughly 0.3m x 0.6m (1ft x 2ft) in size, has already been validated and he has personally tested the system in a simulator.
"By the end of the year, we hope to fly an autonomous resupply mission," said Pino. "The helicopter will land, and two pilots will get in and fly any other mission the Black Hawk can do."
The army is considering a FBW upgrade for its UH-60M fleet, that would provide the backbone needed to host the advanced control system, which among other features would allow for hands-off landings or reduced crew options. Sikorsky has proposed an optionally manned architecture in which operators can select either zero, one and two pilots.
Pino hightlighted the importance of FBW to such advanced functionality, saying that the feature will likely be standard on every helicopter the company develops going forward.
Along with the X2 demonstrator, Sikorsky's new CH-53K has FBW controls, along with its Canadian maritime version of the S-92, the CH-148 Cyclone. "I can't imagine another new start where we don't put in FBW," said Pino.
He added that the FBW-enabled flight control laws on the CH-53K "takes stress and strain and complexity out of the cockpit".
Pino added that pilots can enable the automatic mode by "upshifting" a lever similar to a gear shifter in a car, an action he said will eventually be voice activated.