Sikorsky moves forward with aircraft automation and optionally piloted helicopter technologies
ARLINGTON, Va., 7 Sept. 2015. Avionics designers at Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. in Stratford, Conn., are moving forward with a U.S. defense research program to develop and insert new aircraft automation into existing planes and helicopters to enable operation with reduced onboard crew.
Officials of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., announced a $9.8 million contract modification to Sikorsky in August to begin the second phase of the Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) program.
Sikorsky won an initial $8 million phase-one DARPA ALIAS contract last March to capitalize on advances in aircraft automation, such as remotely piloted aircraft, to help reduce pilot workload, augment mission performance, and improve aircraft safety. Last month Lockheed Martin Corp., the largest U.S. defense contractor, announced plans to acquire Sikorsky for $9 billion.
For ALIAS phase-one, Sikorsky used the company's Matrix technology, which aims to give rotary and fixed-wing aircraft the high level of system intelligence needed to complete complex missions with minimal human oversight.
Sikorsky Matrix technology, introduced in 2013, helped the phase-one ALIAS program develop systems and software to enhance the capability, reliability and safety of flight for autonomous, optionally piloted, and piloted vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft.
In the first phase of the ALIAS program, Sikorsky and partners Sikorsky Innovations -- the rapid prototyping arm of Sikorsky Aircraft -- as well as the United Technologies Research Center, the National Robotics Engineering Center, and Veloxiti Inc. applied autonomous technology across different aircraft, including the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter and other military aircraft.
In the second phase of ALIAS, Sikorsky engineers will conduct flight demonstrations of the Autonomous Crew Enhancement System (ACES) cargo-resupply mission on the UH-60L helicopter, as well as demonstrate the ACES system on a representative fixed-wing aircraft, DARPA officials say.
The objectives of ALIAS phase two are to enhance and mature the phase-one system to support flight tests, enhance the usability and robustness of the human interface, and demonstrate system portability on the ground.
In launching its original autonomy program in 2013, Sikorsky outfitted an S-76 commercial helicopter with fly-by-wire controls and the Matrix Technology suite, creating the Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft (SARA) as its flying test lab.
SARA is enabling rapid flight testing of software and hardware, including multispectral sensors previously integrated in Sikorsky systems integration labs.
In 2014 Sikorsky experts worked together with the U.S. Army to complete the Manned Unmanned Resupply Aerial Lifter (MURAL) program that modified a Black Hawk helicopter for autonomous and remotely supervised control.
The DARPA ALIAS program involves three contractors: Sikorsky; Aurora Flight Sciences Corp.; and Lockheed Martin Corp. The program envisions a tailorable, drop-in, removable kit to automate systems in existing aircraft to reduce the need for an onboard crew.
On this contract modification Sikorsky will do the work in Stratford, Conn.; Pittsburgh; East Hartford, Conn.; and Alpharetta, Ga., and should be finished by January 2017.