Print 16 comment(s) - last by inteli722.. on Dec 8 at 1:14 PM

Autonomous flight test lasted for two hours

The U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center recently conducted a demonstration test of a specially equipped JUH-60A Black Hawk helicopter that needs no pilots to land, fly, and avoid threats. The helicopter has been dubbed the Rotorcraft Aircrew Systems Concept Airborne Laboratory or RASCAL.

The test of the RASCAL was conducted at the Diablo Mountain Range in San Jose, California. During the testing, pilots were onboard the helicopter but all flight maneuvers were conducted autonomously. During the two-hour flight, the RASCAL was able to navigate an obstacle field and use terrain-sensing capabilities, while performing statistical processing, risk assessment, threat avoidance, and autonomously operating flight controls in real-time.

"This was the first time terrain-aware autonomy has been achieved on a Black Hawk," said Lt. Col. Carl Ott, chief of the Flight Projects Office at AMRDEC's Aeroflightdynamics Directorate.

During the test, the RASCAL flew at between 200 and 400 feet above ground level. During the test, the helicopter was also able to identify a safe landing spot within a forest clearing and was able to hover 60 feet over the identified landing spot with within 1-foot accuracy.

"A risk-minimizing algorithm was used to compute and command a safe trajectory continuously throughout 23 miles of rugged terrain in a single flight, at an average speed of 40 knots," said Matthew Whalley, the Autonomous Rotorcraft Project lead. "No prior knowledge of the terrain was used."


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RE: I look forward...
By Metaluna on 12/6/2012 11:41:56 AM , Rating: 3
I don't think we need to worry about that. I can't think of too many missions where it would make sense to retrofit a crewed helicopter for unmanned operation. This sounds more like an R&D proof-of-concept, where the technology would be used as some kind of auxiliary backup to a live pilot (maybe to eliminate the need for a copilot, for example), or else transferred to something designed to be a drone from the start.

The main advantages of unmanned aircraft are the huge cost, size, and weight savings you get from not having to carry a crew. Putting such a system in an aircraft that has already made all those tradeoffs to support a crew kind of defeats the purpose, IMHO.

RE: I look forward...
By danjw1 on 12/6/2012 12:02:13 PM , Rating: 2
The Black Hawk is primarily a troop transport, so I don't see a reason for it to be used as an autonomous aircraft in combat. So you are right, I think. This is just a helicopter they had that they are using to test the technology, not something that is likely to see combat operations.

RE: I look forward...
By Spoogie on 12/6/2012 12:09:36 PM , Rating: 1
Right, because pilots are easily replaceable and their lives dispensable. *:-|

RE: I look forward...
By nafhan on 12/6/2012 12:13:41 PM , Rating: 2
That and cost.

Training a pilot costs millions of dollars. Buying a helicopter costs millions as well. That said, it's not completely unreasonable to believe that at some point retrofitting a helicopter for automated flight may cost less than training a pilot or replacing an otherwise perfectly good vehicle.

RE: I look forward...
By Bad-Karma on 12/6/2012 3:03:21 PM , Rating: 2
The Black Hawk is primarily a troop transport

Oh? In both OEF & OIF there are more logistical supply sorties being made by the blackhawks than troop sorties. There is no where near enough Chinooks & other heavy lift helos to do all the Army's logistical work that is needed on a daily basis.

A lot of the more remote outposts don't have a runway, which would dictate USAF supply drops which the Army and Air Force don't like to do unless it is absolutely critical. And the poor to non-existent roads limits truck convoys which are also quite vulnerable.

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