Sikorsky and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have flown an uncrewed Black Hawk helicopter autonomously on simulated internal and external cargo resupply and rescue operations. The flights were performed at the Yuma Proving Ground on October 12, 14, and 18 as part of the U.S. Army's Project Convergence 2022 (PC22) experiment to demonstrate how existing and future piloted utility helicopters could fly complex missions in reduced crew or autonomous modes, thereby giving Army commanders and aviators greater flexibility in how and when aircraft and pilots are used, especially in limited visibility or contested environments.
During the PC22 Technology Gateway, the Sikorsky and DARPA team showed how the uncrewed, optionally piloted Black Hawk can deliver a large quantity of blood product unharmed by flying low and fast above ground level using the terrain to mask its signature, resupply troops with an external load, and re-route mid-flight to evacuate a casualty.
The PC22 demonstrations were the second set of uncrewed Black Hawk flights this year. Sikorsky and DARPA continue to work toward transitioning the technology to military operations, including aircrew support and operations, logistics and medical resupply, and casualty evacuation, as well as commercial applications such as firefighting, cargo, and urban air mobility.
Sikorsky's autonomy system, known as Matrix, forms the core of DARPA's ALIAS (Aircrew Labor In-cockpit Automation System) project. "We believe Matrix technology is ready now for transition to the Army as they look to modernize the enduring helicopter fleet and acquire future vertical lift aircraft," said Igor Cherepinsky, director of Sikorsky Innovations. "In addition to increasing flight safety and reliability, Matrix technology enables survivability in high tempo, high threat 21st Century security environments.”
During the demonstrations, pilots flew and landed the helicopter, then activated Matrix to give full control to the flight computer. The pilots then exited the aircraft and it autonomously completed the following mission demonstrations: long-endurance medical resupply, flying 83 miles, including as low as 200 feet agl at 100 knots in a valley, with a 500-pound load of real and simulated blood; and a combined cargo delivery and casualty evacuation mission carrying a 2,600-pound load on an external sling, a mission that included an in-flight redirect.