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DARPA Wants to Start Testing Autonomous Flight in Black Hawk Helicopters

The government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) will begin testing its latest autonomous flight system in Black Hawk helicopters next year. The Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) was successfully tested in a S-76B commercial helicopter in Virginia last month, and as a result, engineers are now starting to integrate the system into one of the Army’s most recognized aircrafts.

The test flight took place in Fort Eustis in mid-October, with Lieutenant Colonel Carl Ott, chief of Flight Test for the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center’s Aviation Development Directorate carrying out maneuvers using the ALIAS system. He operated the helicopter using a tablet and “control interceptors.”

Over the course of an hour, Ott conducted a series of realistic tasks, such as low-level terrain flight, a confined area take-off, landing zone selection and obstacle avoidance. Before the test flight, he had practiced with the ALIAS simulator so he could rehearse the maneuvers.

He said autonomous systems are becoming increasingly prevalent and in the future will likely be able to take on the role traditionally performed by a 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,” he said in a statement.