By Sierra Jones, Office of Naval Research
ARLINGTON, Va. American Helicopter Society officials in Fairfax, Virginia, have recognized the Office of Naval Research (ONR) in Arlington, Virginia, and Aurora Flight Sciences in Manassas, Virginia, with the Howard Hughes Award for their joint work on the Autonomous Aerial Cargo Utility System (AACUS). An advance in autonomous flight capability, AACUS enables any rotary-wing aircraft, including myriad military helicopters, to fly autonomously to achieve mission success even in austere environments, officials say.
"The team is honored to be recognized for our work," says Dr. Knox Millsaps, head of ONR's Naval Air Warfare and Weapons Department. "But we'll know if our work has been a real success if it can keep even one more warfighter safe and out of harm's way during a resupply mission-that's our true measure of success."
AACUS is a package of sensors and software that can be integrated into rotary-wing aircraft to provide safe, reliable, and rapid delivery of cargo to Marines in the field using autonomous capabilities. These capabilities include flight, route planning, obstacle avoidance, and landing selection – even on unprepared fields-and takeoffs.
Designed for ease of use, AACUS employs an intuitive handheld computer tablet that allows a Marine in the field to call up needed supplies very quickly and easily. AACUS completed its final demonstration on a UH-1 "Huey" helicopter at the Urban Training Center at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia. A highlight of the demonstration included a Marine requesting an autonomous resupply after only 15 minutes of training.
"The AACUS technology provides a revolutionary way to re-supply our forces in the field," Millsaps adds. "It could simplify the logistics train for supplying critical warfighting cargo to forward-deployed troops, and do this in a more economical manner without placing human pilots at risk in high-threat environments."
AACUS has won and been nominated for other high-profile awards as well. In addition to receiving the Howard Hughes Award, the technology was a finalist for the recent National Aeronautic Association's 2017 Robert J. Collier Trophy. The program also received the XCELLENCE Award in the category of "Detect and Avoid" from the Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International (AUVSI).
AACUS was developed under an ONR Innovative Naval Prototype program in partnership with technology company Aurora Flight Sciences. The program is now with the Marine Corps for further experimentation and development.
Sierra Jones is a contractor for ONR Corporate Strategic Communications.
Aurora Flight Sciences, a Boeing Company, develops smarter aircraft utilizing robust and intuitive autonomous systems. Aurora leverages the power of autonomy to make both manned and unmanned flight safer and more efficient. Headquartered in Manassas, Virginia, Aurora has more than 550 employees and operates in six locations, including research and development centers in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Luzern, Switzerland; and manufacturing facilities in Bridgeport, West Virginia, and Columbus, Mississippi.
The Department of the Navy's Office of Naval Research provides the science and technology necessary to maintain the Navy and Marine Corps' technological advantage. Through its affiliates, ONR is a leader in science and technology with engagement in 50 states, 55 countries, 634 institutions of higher learning and nonprofit institutions, and more than 960 industry partners. ONR, through its commands, including headquarters, ONR Global and the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., employs more than 3,800 people, comprising uniformed, civilian and contract personnel.
A UH-1 Huey equipped with an Office of Naval Research-sponsored Autonomous Aerial Cargo/Utility System (AACUS) autonomy kit makes an approach for landing during final testing at Marine Corps Base Quantico. The AACUS program is developing an innovative capability that enables autonomous flight, obstacle avoidance, approaches, landings and takeoffs in any existing rotary-wing aircraft. (U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams/Released)
A Marine offloads cargo from a UH-1 Huey equipped with an Office of Naval Research-sponsored Autonomous Aerial Cargo/Utility System (AACUS) autonomy kit following a landing within the walls of a Forward Operating Base during final testing at Marine Corps Base Quantico. The AACUS program is developing an innovative capability that enables autonomous flight, obstacle avoidance, approaches, landings and takeoffs in any existing rotary-wing aircraft. (U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams/Released)