UH-60 Black Hawk A helicopter flying unmanned

Hsmilitarycom: A UH-60 Alpha-model Black Hawk helicopter flew for the first time entirely unmanned as part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) program, Sikorsky announced Feb. 8.

UH-60 Black Hawk A helicopter flying unmanned

Lockheed Martin-owned Sikorsky and DARPA have been working on ALIAS for roughly six years, but have always had a pilot in the aircraft just in case, even if the helicopter performed the flight entirely on its own.

There’s a switch in the helicopter called the “210 switch,” Igor Cherepinsky, director of Sikorsky Innovation, told reporters during a Feb. 8 virtual press briefing.

UH-60 Black Hawk A helicopter flying unmanned

The switch indicates how many pilots are present in the aircraft; for the first time before the flight, it was turned to zero.

For 30 minutes, the ALIAS Black Hawk flew without anyone inside over Fort Campbell, Kentucky, on Feb. 5 and then again on a shorter flight on Feb. 7.

The aircraft performed pre-flight checks, took off and ran through a simulated Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) system depicting the congested and complex New York City skyline.

UH-60 Black Hawk A helicopter flying unmanned

The 14,000-lb aircraft responded autonomously to the simulated skyscrapers, weaving through Manhattan, according to Cherepinsky. Then the aircraft landed by itself.

The Black Hawk uses the Sikorsky MATRIX autonomy system designed to help pilots and aircrew when flying in degraded environments, including ones with limited visibility or lacking reliable communications.

Sikorsky developed the MATRIX technology through its Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft (SARA). U.S. Army pilots took it for a spin in 2018 for the first time as the service continues to work toward the option to make both the current fleet and future fleet under development optionally manned.

ALIAS integrates a high level of automation into manned aircraft and has the capability to take on additional autonomy capabilities.

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