DARPA Flys Unmanned Black Hawk Helicopters

The United States military just inched one step closer to bringing autonomous helicopters to the battlefield. Like most strange feats of advanced military technology, this one comes from The Pentagon’s Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, better known simply as “DARPA.”

On Tuesday, DARPA said a UH-60A Black Hawk helicopter outfitted with its experimental Aircrew Labour In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) system safely completed a test flight without anyone in the chopper. The 30-minute test flight occurred over the weekend above a U.S. Army installation at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

DARPA describes its Aircrew Labour In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) as a “tailorable, drop-in, removable kit,” meant to add sophisticated automation to pre-built aircraft at a fraction of the cost of upgrading individual models with new, advanced avionics and software. The agency imagines this system will one day reduce pilot workloads and ultimately improve aircraft safety.

“With reduced workloads pilots can focus on mission management instead of the mechanics,” DARPA Tactical Technology Office Program Manager Stuart Young said in a statement. “This unique combination of autonomy software and hardware will make flying both smarter and safer.”

ALIAS was used last year in a supervised test where it was accompanied by a safety pilot. In that case, a video of the event made public by Lockheed Martin shows an S-70 OPV Black Hawk taking off from the ground autonomously, avoiding simulated obstacles, and landing.

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