Sikorsky Finishes Autonomous Flight With Optionally Piloted Black Hawk

Accompanied by a safety pilot, Sikorsky chief pilot Mark Ward commands the autonomous S-70A via a tablet interface.
Credit: Sikorsky

Sikorsky has demonstrated the supervised autonomy capability of its modified S-70A Black Hawk optionally piloted vehicle, with the test pilot using a tablet to command the helicopter through a complete mission.

The S-70A optionally piloted vehicle (OPV) is a former U.S. Army UH-60A retrofitted with fly-by-wire flight controls and the autonomy management system developed under DARPA’s Alias program and Sikorsky’s Matrix Technology initiative. The helicopter is also equipped with a multisensor perception system.

On the demonstration flight, the OPV Black Hawk operated autonomously from takeoff to landing, including avoiding simulated obstacles in two scenarios, commanded by Sikorsky chief pilot Mark Ward using a tablet interface. 

While executing the preplanned mission, the helicopter turned autonomously to avoid entering a no-flight zone. It then maneuvered autonomously between simulated buildings. “As expected, the OPV Black Hawk turned and maneuvered its way through the simulated obstacles as they appeared on the tablet screen,” Sikorsky said in a statement.

Sikorsky will continue to develop the pilot-directed autonomy capabilities of the Matrix system through 2022 under Phase 3 of the Alias program. Under an extension to Phase 3 announced in December, this will include flying the S-70A OPV testbed on complex missions alongside an Army UH-60M equipped with Sikorsky’s Matrix kit.

Lockheed Martin is designing autonomous capabilities into the Sikorsky/Boeing Defiant X competitor for the Army’s Future Long Range Assault Aircraft and Sikorsky’s own Raider X contender for the service’s Future Armed Reconnaissance Aircraft. 

Sikorsky is developing the Matrix system to be FAA-certifiable for use in its commercial helicopters, beginning with the S-92. In February, the Air Current reported that Sikorsky and FedEx had begun flights with an ATR 42 freighter modified with Matrix technology to test single-pilot operations.

Graham Warwick

Graham leads Aviation Week's coverage of technology, focusing on engineering and technology across the aerospace industry, with a special focus on identifying technologies of strategic importance to aviation, aerospace and defense.