The US Army’s new Autonomous Black Hawk (ABH) helicopter has successfully completed its first flight test, paving the way for the future of unmanned aerial vehicles in the armed forces. The autonomous Black Hawk helicopter successfully flew over the Maryland countryside, reaching an altitude of 2500 feet and traveling nearly 30 miles per hour while demonstrating the ability to detect and avoid obstacles on its own.
Next month, in its second test, the ABH will have to navigate complicated mock urban environments while avoiding power lines and buildings in order to demonstrate that it can safely fly missions in city-based areas where Black Hawks are often used today.
Autonomous Black Hawk Testing
How do you think unmanned Black Hawks will change military missions in conflict areas? Do you think they will make or break a mission? Do you think civilians may see positive or negative effects from a pilot-less aircraft? Leave your comments below!
A New Era in Aviation Safety
The Sikorsky X2 technology, when applied to UAS, is expected to bring a new level of safety and autonomous capability to flight systems and applications. By making flight as seamless as driving an automobile, UAS have immense potential to save time and money in fields such as agriculture, search and rescue, public safety and infrastructure inspection.
These first flights validate our ability to apply automation in a complex rotorcraft environment, said Col. Michael Hirschberg, director of Strategy & Innovation for Sikorsky Innovations.
The Impact on Civilian Airspace
Since 2009, more than two dozen successful flight tests have occurred in Colorado. The autonomous technology has been installed on an AH-6 Little Bird, a Bell 212 and most recently, an MQ-1C Gray Eagle, making it possible for pilots to focus their attention on missions instead of flying.
We are very excited about expanding our testing into civilian airspace, said Mark Miller, Project Engineer for AAI’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems business line. The combination of unmanned systems and autonomous control will bring significant improvements to future missions. For example, a set of sensors called Flight Observation Recorder (FORESIGHT) is currently under development.
How It Works
Autonomous helicopters are often used in war zones as a way to transport troops or to provide surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. Although these Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems have been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan for years, there’s always been a human operator on board who can take over if something goes wrong. But now Sikorsky has introduced new autonomous flight testing with its X2 Technology Demonstrator that will pave the way for future military unmanned missions. The program is developing technology that allows helicopters like Sikorsky’s UH-60M Black Hawk to execute landings and takeoffs while hovering at altitudes of up to 20,000 feet.
On-going testing will drive future unmanned missions
With thousands of hours of training and testing under its belt, Sikorsky’s new-to-the-fleet autonomous Black Hawk took to flight again recently. The test is one in a series that Sikorsky will conduct over an eight-year period as part of a $100 million effort funded by Sikorsky and three U.S. Army organizations:
Program Executive Office (PEO) Aviation, Project Manager–Unmanned Aerial Systems (PM UAS), and Project Manager Aviation Initiative Group (PM AI G). Together they are paving a way for future unmanned missions with an eye on making aviation safer overall. The focus of these efforts is not just on our unmanned aircraft, said Sean Gibbons, Sikorsky senior vice president for Research & Engineering.
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