Optionally Piloted Black Hawk takes off
The Optionally Piloted Black Hawk (OPBH) demonstrator currently in development between Sikorsky and the US Army has completed a successful first flight at Sikorsky’s Development Flight Center. The flight is a significant milestone in the Sikorsky Manned/Unmanned Resupply Aerial Lifter (MURAL) programme to provide autonomous cargo delivery functionality to the US Army.
The flight, conducted in March, utilised Sikorsky’s Matrix Technologies and Ground Control Station (GCS) Technologies. The demonstrator performed autonomous hover and flight operations while under the control of a man-portable GCS, demonstrating the capability for expeditionary operations and critical cargo resupply.
Mark Miller, vice president of research and engineering, Sikorsky, said: ‘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. 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 MURAL programme is a cooperative effort between the US Army Aviation Development Directorate (ADD), the US Army Utility Helicopters Project Office (UH PO) and Sikorsky. The UH PO 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.
The hope is that MURAL technology will advance solutions related to Degraded Visual Environment operations, by providing critical flight control and flight handling quality improvements.
William Lewis, director, ADD, added: ‘The ADD’s mission is to focus on developing, demonstrating and applying critical technologies that enhance the capability, affordability, readiness and safety of Department of Defense (DoD) aviation systems. 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 programme.’
Sikorsky has been developing the technology since 2007, and signed a Cooperative Research & Development Agreement (CRADA) with the US Army in 2013 to advance the programme to a formal effort to demonstrate the full flexibility and value of a full authority flight control system. The effort includes demonstration of expeditionary ground control systems and precision control.
Sikorsky designed its Matrix Technology 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 (VTOL) aircraft. It aims to give rotary and fixed wing VTOL aircraft a high level of system intelligence needed to complete complex missions with minimal human oversight and at low altitudes where obstacles abound.
The application of Matrix Technology to the OPBH is an initial step toward demonstrating the flexibility, adaptability and capability to a range of aircraft systems.
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