Sikorsky Aircraft reported it successfully piloted a Black Hawk helicopter with fly-by-wire flight controls, initiating a wider flight-test program for an "optionally piloted aircraft" (OPV), i.e., a hybrid piloted helicopter and unmanned aerial vehicle. The flight testing will work toward to fully autonomous flight in 2020.
The May 29 flight for the Black Hawk helicopter was conducted using a technology kit developed by Sikorsky. It is its first "full authority fly-by-wire retrofit kit” with the mechanical flight controls completely removed, the Lockheed Martin holding noted.
"This technology brings a whole new dimension of safety, reliability and capability to existing and future helicopters and to those who depend on them to complete their missions," stated Chris Van Buiten, vice president, Sikorsky Innovations. "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."
The UH-60M Black Hawk is a series of military helicopters manufactured by Sikorsky and customized for different uses by the U.S. Dept. of Defense armed services branches, and by other nations’ defense forces.
Sikorsky is developing its OPV capability (it calls it "pilot-directed autonomy") through the DARPA Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) program: the OPV concept aims to give operators confidence to fly safely, reliably, and affordably with one or two crew, or no crew. It aims to improve the operators’ "decision aiding" for manned operations, and also supporting both unmanned and reduced crew operations.