For the first time, Sikorsky showed the US Army how an uncrewed Black Hawk helicopter flying autonomously could safely and reliably perform both internal and external cargo resupply missions, as well as a rescue operation.
The flights took place during the US Army’s Project Convergence 2022 experiment in October. They demonstrated that existing and future piloted utility helicopters could eventually fly complex missions in reduced crew or autonomous modes. This would offer Army commanders and aviators more options in how and when aircraft and pilots are used, particularly when visibility is limited or in contested environments.
Igor Cherepinsky, Director of Sikorsky Innovations, said: “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 details
The Sikorsky and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) team showed how the optionally piloted Black Hawk helicopter with no crew on board can deliver a large quantity of blood product unharmed by flying low and fast above ground level using terrain to mask its signature; resupply troops with an external load; and reroute mid-flight to evacuate a casualty.
The pilots flew and landed the Black Hawk, then activated the MATRIX system, giving full control to the flight computer. The pilots then exited, leaving the helicopter to autonomously complete a Long-endurance Medical Resupply mission demonstration and Cargo Delivery and Casualty Evacuation combined mission demonstration.