Lockheed Martin subsidiary Sikorsky and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have completed their first demonstration for the U.S. Army of logistics and rescue missions using an uncrewed “optionally piloted” Black Hawk helicopter. The demonstration simulated missions including an 83-mile autonomous medical resupply carrying 400 units of real and simulated blood, delivery of a 2,600-pound external load attached to a 40-foot sling, and rerouting mid-flight to evacuate a casualty. The flights, which were performed by a Black Hawk equipped with Sikorsky’s MATRIX autonomy technology, aimed to “show how existing and future piloted utility helicopters could one day fly complex missions in reduced crew or autonomous mode.”
“We believe MATRIX technology is ready now for transition to the Army as they look to modernize the enduring helicopter fleet, and acquire Future Vertical Lift aircraft,” said Sikorsky Innovations director Igor Cherepinsky. “In addition to increasing flight safety and reliability, MATRIX technology enables survivability in high tempo, high threat 21st Century Security environments where Black Hawk helicopters operate today, and DEFIANT X and RAIDER X helicopters could operate in the future. Uncrewed or reduced crewed helicopters could safely perform critical and lifesaving missions day or night in complex terrain and in contested battlespace.”
The demonstration flights were performed last month as part of the Army’s Project Convergence 2022 (PC22) experiment. A second series of uncrewed Black Hawk flights is planned for later this year. In addition to military applications, Sikorsky is looking at using the technology for civilian operations such as firefighting, cargo delivery and urban air mobility.