US Army Tests DARPA Autonomous Flight System, Pursuing Integration with Black Hawk
(Source: Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency; issued Oct 29, 2018)
Together with the FAA and Darpa, Sikorsky is developing autonomous and optionally-piloted technology that will ultimately decrease instances of the number one cause of helicopter crashes: Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT). (DARPA photo)
The Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System provides flexible automation architecture for existing aircraft to increase mission effectiveness and enable safe, reduced crew operations.


An S-76B commercial helicopter flew over a small crowd gathered at Fort Eustis, Virginia, landed in an adjacent field after adjusting to miss a vehicle, and rose up to hover perfectly motionless for several minutes.

The mid-October demonstration was remarkable because the pilot carried out the maneuvers using supervised autonomy in an aircraft equipped with DARPA’s Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS). He operated the system via novel control interceptors and a tablet he had used for the first time just three days beforehand.

“Hovering in adverse winds is a task that consumes a human pilot’s attention, but automated flight control achieves ‘rock steady’ precision,” said Graham Drozeski, the DARPA program manager for ALIAS, explaining how offloading pilots’ cognitive burden frees them to focus on mission execution.

“Really, we want the pilot’s eyes and mind on the fight rather than holding an altitude. That’s the core focus of ALIAS: bringing the latest advances from unmanned aircraft into a piloted aircraft through an interface that provides fluid interaction with the autonomous capabilities.”

The U.S. Army pilot conducting the demonstration agreed, noting that as autonomous systems become more prevalent, aircraft systems can take on the role of a traditional co-pilot.

“The Army refers to this as Mission Adaptive Autonomy. It’s there when the pilot needs the aircraft to fly itself and keep it free of obstacles, so the pilot can focus on more of the mission commander type role. But the pilot is able to interact with the system to re-suggest, re-route or re-plan on the fly,” said Lt. Col. Carl Ott, chief of Flight Test for the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center's Aviation Development Directorate.

During the hour-long flight demonstration, Ott interfaced with the autonomous capabilities of the system to conduct a series of realistic missions, including aircrew tasks such as low-level terrain flight, confined area takeoffs and landings, landing zone selection, trajectory planning, and wire-obstacle avoidance.



Before climbing in the cockpit, Ott practiced the mission plan with the ALIAS simulator, a tool that could help reduce mission planning and preparation time for future operators, allowing them to rehearse maneuvers in advance.

Now in Phase 3, the Sikorsky engineers developing ALIAS have begun to integrate the system into a UH-60 Black Hawk for testing and flight demonstration in 2019. As the biggest fleet of aircraft in the Army and widely relied on by the Department of Defense, Drozeski said the Black Hawk is the ideal platform for ALIAS to quickly benefit service partners.

“We’ve chosen the Black Hawk as the platform we want to demonstrate full integration of ALIAS-type capabilities – all the circuit breakers and switches and instruments in the aircraft, so that the capability ALIAS provides to a crew member is really like a co-pilot,” said Drozeski. “It can fly routes, plan routes, execute emergency procedures, and do all that perfectly.”

Highlights of ALIAS’ flexible architecture include:
-- The potential for integration onto multiple fixed and rotary-wing platforms, both military and commercial;
-- Cockpit displays and human interfaces that support reduced workload and/or reduced crew, as well as improved safety, such as terrain avoidance;
-- Full coverage of typical aircrew tasks and emergency procedures;
-- The ability to integrate directly with existing air vehicle systems, subsystems, and mission payloads;
-- Redundancy and software assurance to support certification for human occupancy; and
-- The ability to rapidly integrate new applications including third-party algorithms and applications onto existing aircraft.

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U.S. Army Pilots Fly Autonomous Sikorsky Helicopter in First-of-its-Kind Demonstration
(Source: Lockheed Martin; issued Oct. 29, 2018)
FORT EUSTIS, Va. --- U.S. Army pilots exercised supervised autonomy to direct an optionally-piloted helicopter (OPV) through a series of missions to demonstrate technology developed by Sikorsky and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The series of flights marked the first time that non-Sikorsky pilots operated the Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft (SARA), a modified S-76B commercial helicopter, as an OPV aircraft.

"Future vertical lift aircraft will require robust autonomous and optimally-piloted systems to complete missions and improve safety," said Chris Van Buiten, vice president, Sikorsky Innovations. "We could not be more thrilled to welcome Army aviators to the cockpit to experience first-hand the reliability of optimally-piloted technology developed by the innovative engineers at Sikorsky and DARPA. These aviators experienced the same technology that we are installing and testing on a Black Hawk that will take its first flight over the next several months."

SARA, which has more than 300 hours of autonomous flight, successfully demonstrated the advanced capabilities developed as part of the third phase of DARPA's Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) program. The aircraft was operated at different times by pilots on board and pilots on the ground.

Sikorsky's MATRIX Technology autonomous software and hardware, which is installed on SARA, executed various scenarios including:
-- Automated Take Off and Landing: The helicopter autonomously executed take-off, traveled to its destination, and autonomously landed
-- Obstacle Avoidance: The helicopter's LIDAR and cameras enabled it to detect and avoid unknown objects such as wires, towers and moving vehicles
-- Automatic Landing Zone Selection: The helicopter's LIDAR sensors determined a safe landing zone
-- Contour Flight: The helicopter flew low to the ground and behind trees

The recent Mission Software Flight Demonstration was a collaboration with the U.S. Army's Aviation Development Directorate, Sikorsky and DARPA. The Army and DARPA are working with Sikorsky to improve and expand ALIAS capabilities developed as a tailorable autonomy kit for installation in both fixed wing airplanes and helicopters.

Over the next few months, Sikorsky will for the first time fly a Black Hawk equipped with ALIAS. The company is working closely with the Federal Aviation Administration to certify ALIAS/MATRIX technology so that it will be available on current and future commercial and military aircraft.

"We're demonstrating a certifiable autonomy solution that is going to drastically change the way pilots fly," said Mark Ward, Sikorsky Chief Pilot, Stratford, Conn. Flight Test Center. "We're confident that MATRIX Technology will allow pilots to focus on their missions. This technology will ultimately decrease instances of the number one cause of helicopter crashes: Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT)."

Through the DARPA ALIAS program, Sikorsky is developing an OPV approach it describes as pilot directed autonomy that will give operators the confidence to fly aircraft safely, reliably and affordably in optimally piloted modes enabling flight with two, one or zero crew. The program will improve operator decision aiding for manned operations while also enabling both unmanned and reduced crew operations.


Headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, Lockheed Martin is a global security and aerospace company that employs approximately 100,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services. This year the company received three Edison Awards for ground-breaking innovations in autonomy, satellite technology and directed energy.

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