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Sikorsky demos S-76 autonomous flight
Sikorsky has successfully demonstrated a 30 mile autonomous flight of its Sikorsky S-76 medium-size commercial utility helicopter, it announced on 31 May.
The demonstration completes the first phase of Sikorsky's $8 million contract from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)'s Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) programme.
The ALIAS system from Sikorsky directed the fight demonstration of the Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft (SARA) from the company's facility in Stratford, Connecticut to Robertson Airport in Plainville, Connecticut.
The demonstration highlighted the ability for an operator to use a tablet device to plan and conduct all phases of an autonomous flight mission. A ground station crew at the starting field monitored the progress of the ALIAS-enabled SARA.
DARPA's ALIAS programme aims to develop and add new automation levels into commercial and military aircraft already in service, reducing the required number of crew and pilot workload, improving aircraft reliability and safety, and improving mission performance.
Sikorsky installed its Matrix Technology on the SARA and a Black Hawk helicopter. With the first phase of the ALIAS programme complete, it has begun working on the second phase. DARPA has already awarded a $9.8 million contract modification for the second phase, which covers additional flight tests, human interface enhancements and transition of the ALIAS system to additional aircraft.
Mark Miller, vice president of engineering & technology, Sikorsky, said: 'With the advances we've made, the capability for safe, unobtrusive optionally piloted flight is here.
'ALIAS is expanding the role of optionally piloted helicopters for early entry into established aircraft programs. It has the capability of not only reducing aircrew size, but also changing the type and length of training required for safe operation.'
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