ALIAS programme

Sikorsky Aircraft has been awarded a contract to work on the first phase of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) aircrew labour in-cockpit automation system (ALIAS) programme.

The ALIAS programme seeks to develop a customised and portable hardware and software kit to facilitate the addition of high levels of automation into a wide variety of existing military and civilian aircraft, enabling operation with reduced onboard crew.

Under the $8m contract, Sikorsky Innovations, along with the United Technologies Research Center, the National Robotics Engineering Center, and Veloxiti intends to demonstrate the value of applying autonomous technology across different aircraft consistent with the ALIAS vision.

"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. "

The platforms to be used include the UH-60 Black Hawk multi-mission helicopter and other aircraft in the US Department of Defense’s fleet.

The company’s proposal is based on Matrix Technology, which is designed to provide rotary and fixed-wing aircraft with the high level of system intelligence required to complete complex missions with minimal human oversight.

This technology was launched in 2013. It seeks to develop, test, and field systems and software that significantly improve the capability, reliability and safety of flight for autonomous, optionally piloted, and piloted vertical take-off and landing aircraft.

Sikorsky Aircraft Research & Engineering vice-president Mark Miller said: "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.

"It will be very interesting to apply this technology, and we believe it could be a real game changer for both military and commercial customers."

Sikorsky Autonomy chief engineer Igor Cherepinsky said: "The ALIAS programme is another step towards advancing and validating our approach to bring higher levels of automation to flight."

Under Phase I, the Sikorsky team intends to collaborate with DARPA’s ALIAS team to conduct ground tests using a Black Hawk helicopter.

Sikorsky launched its autonomy programme in 2013 by creation of the Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft (SARA). This consists of a S-76 commercial helicopter equipped with fly-by-wire controls and the Matrix Technology suite.

Currently, SARA is allowing rapid flight testing of software and hardware, including multi-spectral sensors that have been previously integrated in the company’s systems integration labs in Connecticut, US.


Image: ALIAS programme seeks to develop a tailorable software and hardware kit that would facilitate the addition of high levels of automation into the current military aircraft. Photo: courtesy of DARPA.