The US Army plans to soon demonstrate "slaving" the flight controls of four unmanned cargo helicopters to a single, manned helicopter, says a top army official.

The goal is to overcome the problems of keeping a line-of-sight communications link to control unmanned aircraft systems performing the aerial resupply mission, says Tim Owings, deputy programme manager for the army's UAS programmes.

A joint concept technology demonstrate is likely to evaluate a Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk that is slaved to up to five unmanned Kaman K-Max helicopters, Owings says.

The demonstration will be performed at Fort Eustis, Virginia, where the army's aviation applied technology directorate is located.

Army officials kept a steady interest in the possibilities of unmanned cargo resupply, believing there could be a niche role for resupplying remote ground units operating outside the range or threat envelope of manned helicopters.

The army is closely "tracing" the US Marine Corps' plan to demonstrate in December or January that an unmanned helicopter can supply up to 1,135kg (2,500lb) of cargo within a 6h period. Both the Boeing A160 Hummingbird and K-Max will participate in the demonstration. If proven feasible, the USMC plans to deploy the system to Afghanistan for an operational tour.

That deployment will be determine whether operating unmanned cargo aircraft in such a niche role is a practical concept, Owings says.

The army continues to reject concepts that propose to replaced manned helicopters with UAS for routine resupply missions, arguing that the benefits do not outweigh the costs and limitations of unmanned systems.

Meanwhile, the army is also operating on the "periphery" of a cargo UAS demonstration programme recently launched by the US Air Force and Transportation Command.

Source: Flight International