By IndraStra Global News Team
Image Attribute: A Black Hawk (N60OPV) equipped with optionally-piloted vehicle (OPV) technology made its first flight at Sikorsky’s West Palm Beach, Fla., facility on May 29. Sikorsky is developing autonomous and OPV technology that builds on its fly-by-wire technology to ultimately reduce the number one cause of helicopter crashes: Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT). / Source: Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company.
On June 6, 2019, Lockheed Martin announced that it has flown its Optionally Piloted Vehicle (OPV) technology aboard a Sikorsky UH-60A Black Hawk testbed helicopter for the first time.
On May 29, the company flew the S-70 OPV Black Hawk for the first time. For this flight, our Sikorsky team retrofitted a UH-60A Black Hawk helicopter with a technology kit to give it full-authority, fly-by-wire flight controls. The flight marked the official start to the flight test program for the soon-to-be optionally piloted aircraft. Follow-on flight testing aims to include envelope expansion throughout the summer leading to fully autonomous flight (zero pilots) in 2020.
These latest flight trials program for the OPV technology follows the last year's testing of modified S-76B, known as the Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft (SARA).
Image Attribute: Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft (SARA), a modified S-76B commercial helicopter / Source: Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company & DARPA
Since 2013, SARA has accumulated more than 300h of autonomous flight using its "MATRIX Technology". During the last year's Army test flights, the aircraft was operated at different times by pilots on board and pilots on the ground.
"This is the first full authority fly-by-wire retrofit kit developed by Sikorsky that has completely removed mechanical flight controls from the aircraft," Lockheed Martin said.
The OPV trials form part of a wider effort to demonstrate unmanned helicopter operations under joint DARPA-Sikorsky Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) program. ALIAS aims to use autonomous technologies to reduce pilot workload, augment mission performance, and improve aircraft safety and reliability.
According to Sikorsky Innovations vice-president Chris Van Buiten, "This technology brings a whole new dimension of safety, reliability, and capability to existing and future helicopters and to those who depend on them to complete their missions." He further added, "We’re excited to be transforming a once mechanically controlled aircraft into one with fly-by-wire controls. This flight demonstrates the next step in making optionally piloted, and optimally piloted, aircraft, a reality."
Earlier in March 2019, Sikorsky announced that its S-92 helicopter fleet update will include the introduction of phase one MATRIX Technology that will bring advanced computing power to the platform. This foundation enables adoption of autonomous landing technology.