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New System Allows Pilots to Sit Back While Military Helicopters Fly Themselves

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The next time a military helicopter pilot tells the co-pilot “take the controls," there may not need to be anyone in the next seat over. Military researchers are developing a new system that lets a pilot completely hand off flying the aircraft to an autonomous system. 
The ALIAS system, or Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System, was developed by DARPA to provide an invisible backup pilot, allowing the pilot to do other things such as coordinate friendly forces, adjust a plan of action, or anything else that requires full attention. Pilots can then dip back into ALIAS to re-suggest, re-route, or re-plan the ongoing flight as needed. 
The ALIAS System was incorporated into a commercial Sikorsky S-76B helicopter nicknamed SARA (Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft) and demonstrated at Fort Eustis, Virginia, in October. According to DARPA, the helicopter was able to conduct a number of missions, including low-level terrain flight, confined-area takeoffs and landings, landing-zone selection, trajectory planning, and wire-obstacle avoidance. The helicopter uses built-in LIDAR sensors to determine distance from obstacles, particularly in choosing a safe landing zone. 
Along with freeing pilots to do other necessary jobs, automation could be useful if one or both pilots are wounded. Autonomous-capable helicopters can fly low-risk, monotonous missions, such as supply runs, while the pilots sleep. It could also allow helicopter units to keep flying simple missions during a pilot shortage. 
Sikorsky, a division of Lockheed Martin, is working on extending ALIAS into both crewed and uncrewed aircraft, including helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. The next phase in the project involves installing ALIAS in a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter to give it full functionality over the aircraft’s controls. Blackhawk tests are set to begin in 2019. 
Source: DARPA

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