For the first time the famed Black Hawk helicopter has flown entirely unmanned as part of an experimental project by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Lockheed Martin.
The project, which has been in development for six years, is called ALIAS - or the "Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System" - and proved successful after days ago a UH-60 Alpha-model Black Hawk helicopter performed its first flight with no human pilot on board.
The maiden flight included the helicopter taking off and landing successfully with no human pilot. It also navigated simulated aerial obstacles in between.
Lockheed Martin published footage of the historic flight to its website this week, describing... "Sitting on the runway in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, one of Sikorsky’s pilots in an S-70 Black Hawk helicopter flips the optionally piloted cockpit switch from two to zero, exits the aircraft and walks across the runway."
The helicopter is seen completing "a pre-flight check list, starts its engines, spins up its rotors and takes off with no crew onboard," according to the press release. "All of it happens fully autonomously."
So far it's completed two test flights over Fort Campbell, Kentucky with no person inside the cockpit. The aircraft is monitored at a remote station from on the ground.
The helicopter literally has a simple switch that enables autonomous flying, as Defense News described:
There’s a switch in the helicopter called the "210 switch," Igor Cherepinsky, director of Sikorsky Innovation, told reporters during a Feb. 8 virtual press briefing. The switch indicates how many pilots are present in the aircraft; for the first time before the flight, it was turned to zero.
For 30 minutes, the ALIAS Black Hawk flew without anyone inside over Fort Campbell, Kentucky, on Feb. 5 and then again on a shorter flight on Feb. 7.
The ALIAS technology has cost some $160 million so far, with Lockheed touting that "This unique combination of autonomy software and hardware will make flying both smarter and safer."
As AI becomes more advanced, we can imagine that in the not-so-distant future ALIAS will be combined with instant AI-driven battlefield decision-making, in a worrisome 'Skynet' type scenario which skeptics of DARPA and its creepy AI-robot projects are frequently warning about.