Sikorsky flies Black Hawk with retrofit fly-by-wire kit


Sikorsky has successfully flown a Black Hawk using its autonomous technology for the first time, marking the start of the flight test campaign using the flying testbed helicopter.

The Black Hawk helicopter flew with the full authority fly-by-wire retrofit kit, which removes the mechanical controls from the aircraft, on May 29 at Sikorsky’s test facility at West Palm Beach, Florida.

The successful test flight  is one of the first steps towards unmanned autonomous flight of the helicopters. Follow-on testing of the optionally-piloted aircraft aims to expand the flight envelope of the aircraft until fully autonomous flight is achieved in 2020, said the company.

Chris Van Buiten, vice president of Sikorsky Innovations said, “This technology brings a new dimension of safety, reliability and capability to existing and future helicopters and to those who depend on them to complete their missions. 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.”

Sikorsky is developing the optionally piloted vehicle (OPV) as part of DARPA’s Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) program. The company describes the OPV-approach as pilot directed autonomy and believes it 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 aims to improve operator decision aiding for manned operations while also enabling both unmanned and reduced crew operations.

Sikorsky has been demonstrating its autonomous technology on a modified S-76B called the Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft. The aircraft, which has been in test since 2013, has more than 300 hours of autonomous flight.

The company announced in March that its next S-92 helicopter fleet update will introduce the first phase of this technology in the form of autonomous landing.


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Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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