Autonomous Black Hawk Helicopter
Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation
Sikorsky Aircraft, a subsidiary of United Technologies Corp., is developing its first product to feature Matrix™ Technology by converting a retired UH-60A Black Hawk helicopter into an optionally piloted variant capable of a wide spectrum of missions. With the autonomous Black Hawk, Sikorsky plans to build on the success of its Matrix Technology and Manned/Unmanned Resupply Aerial Lifter (MURAL) autonomy programs to deliver a new level of mission flexibility to combat and logistic planners. The product will integrate autonomy and advanced fleet management technology with refurbishment experience to provide a cost-effective, dependable and sustainable system.
The autonomous Black Hawk helicopter will offer the flexibility of internal and external cargo capability, the strength to lift up to 9,000 pounds, and the productivity of high cruise speeds. The design is targeting a system loss rate of one per 100,000 flight hours.
Design of a prototype system has been underway for more than a year, and induction of the first Black Hawk helicopter was scheduled to begin in May of this year. Sikorsky will conduct a series of technology maturation tests during the build period using the Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft (SARA), which is based on an S-76® commercial helicopter.
In collaboration with the U.S. Army, Sikorsky successfully demonstrated the ability of a UH-60M Upgrade Optionally Piloted Black Hawk helicopter to conduct autonomous flight and autonomous cargo resupply demonstrations through its MURAL Program earlier this year.
For the past year, Sikorsky has been working on advancing helicopter autonomous flight with its Matrix Technology program. The Matrix test aircraft, SARA, has conducted continuous flight testing to increase capabilities, adding advanced perception flights to its latest phase of envelope expansion.
Sikorsky is also working on a project with the National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) of Carnegie Mellon University to demonstrate an autonomous delivery of an Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV) by an Optionally Piloted Black Hawk helicopter enabled with Matrix™ Technology. The UGV will subsequently execute a mission to investigate a potentially contaminated area, while keeping human personnel out of harm’s way. The project is an 18-month program sponsored by the U.S. Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development, and Engineering Center (TARDEC) through the Robotics Technology Consortium. The NREC-led “Extending the Reach of the Warfighter Through Robotics” effort launched in March and will culminate with a final demonstration in September 2015.
The NREC is providing the UGV, a modified Land Tamer® allterrain vehicle which uses key elements of several NREC worldclass autonomy systems to support on-road and off-road autonomous exploration. The team of unmanned ground and air vehicles will autonomously survey sites with suspected chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear contamination.
Sikorsky introduced its Matrix Technology in July 2013 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. Matrix™ 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.
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