DARPA’s Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) program seeks to leverage the industry-wide advances that have been made in aircraft automation systems, including progress made in remotely piloted aircraft, to help reduce pilot workload, augment mission performance, and improve aircraft safety.
Under contract for Phase 1 of the program, Sikorsky Aircraft’s approach to ALIAS will be based on its Matrix Technology that it introduced in 2013. The gist of that technology was to develop, test, and field systems and software that would improve the capability, reliability, and safety of flight for autonomous, optionally piloted, and piloted VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) aircraft. Matrix, like ALIAS, is geared toward providing rotary and fixed-wing aircraft the system intelligence needed to complete complex missions with minimal human oversight. ALIAS in particular entails the developing and placing new automation technology into existing aircraft to enable operation with a reduced onboard crew.
Sikorsky Innovations—the rapid prototyping arm of Sikorsky Aircraft—along with the United Technologies Research Center, the National Robotics Engineering Center, and Veloxiti, Inc., plan to demonstrate the value of applying autonomous technology across different aircraft consistent with the needs of the ALIAS program, including the Black Hawk helicopter and other aircraft in the Department of Defense fleet. The Sikorsky team for the Phase 1 effort plans to collaborate with DARPA’s ALIAS team on ground tests using a Black Hawk. .
“The potential ability to rapidly reconfigure Black Hawk helicopters to enable them to be flown by fewer crew or crew of different skill levels is very exciting,” said Mark Miller, Vice President of Research & Engineering. “It will be very interesting to apply this technology. We believe it could be a real game changer for both military and commercial customers.”
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 enables rapid flight testing of software and hardware, including multi-spectral sensors that have been previously integrated in the systems integration labs at Sikorsky’s headquarters.
Last year, in collaboration with the U.S. Army, Sikorsky completed the Manned Unmanned Resupply Aerial Lifter (MURAL) program, in which a Black Hawk helicopter was modified for autonomous and remotely supervised control. Igor Cherepinsky, Sikorsky’s Chief Engineer of Autonomy, views the ALIAS program as another step toward advancing and validating the company’s approach to bringing higher levels of automation to flight.