Okay, many of us probably have one at home or have tried at least one time to fly one: a small remotely piloted helicopter you can buy at the toy store. But why not try something bigger, like a life-size Black Hawk helicopter. That is precisely what manufacturer Sikorsky and the US Army are doing, and successfully according to a press release of 21 April 2014.
Sikorsky doesn’t take the man – or woman – fully out of the machine, as this super big ‘toy’ is called the Optionally Piloted Black Hawk (OPBH) Demonstrator or Sikorsky’s Manned/Unmanned Resupply Aerial Lifter (MURAL) Program. It conducted the first demonstration on 11 March at Sikorsky’s Development Flight Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. “A significant step toward providing autonomous cargo delivery functionality to the US Army”, a company spokesperson writes.
The OPBH demonstrated autonomous hover and flight operations while under the control of a man-portable ground control station. In other words, a somewhat more advanced radio-antenna equipped control console and construction one normally only expects from the Mythbusters.
“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,” said Mark Miller, Sikorsky Vice President of Research & Engineering.
Sikorsky has been developing the technology since 2007 and since 2013 uses two current USAR UH-60s.
© 2014 AIRheads’ editor Marcel Burger with source information provided by Sikorsky