ALIAS – automation by another name


DARPA and Sikorsky have completed the first test flight of Sikorsky’s experimental autonomous flight system.

Last week, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) oversaw the test flight of Sikorsky’s new Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) in Fort Eusitis, Virginia.

Lt. Col Carl Ott, a US Army pilot and DARPA experimental-aircraft pilot flew a civil S-76b on an hour-long test flight using the ALIAS system. The test flight involved a simple take-off, hover and land manoeuvres.

The ALIAS system is able to execute complex missions in low-altitude and obstacle-rich environments as well as keep the aircraft hovering steadily in adverse weather conditions. According to a video of the flight test, the pilot was able to conduct the flight with only three days of prior experience using the control system.

Lt. Ott also suggests the system could eliminate the need for a co-pilot on the majority of military and commercial missions.

Commenting on the successful test flight, Graham Drozeski, the DARPA program manager for ALIAS said:

“Hovering in adverse winds is a task that consumes a human pilot’s attention, but automated flight control achieves ‘rock-steady’ precision. Really, we want the pilot’s eyes and mind on the flight rather than on holding an altitude. That’s the core focus of ALIAS: bringing the latest advances from unmanned aircraft into a piloted aircraft through an interface that provides fluid interaction with the autonomous capabilities.”

On flying the aircraft, test pilot Lt. Col Carl Ott said: “It (ALIAS) is there when the pilot needs the aircraft to fly itself and keep it free of obstacles, so the pilot can focus on more of the mission commander type role. But the pilot is able to interact with the system to re-suggest, re-route or re-plan on the fly.”

In stage three of the development, Sikorsky will be integrating the system on a UH-60 Black Hawk for military-specific trials and flight demonstrations in 2019.

“We’ve chosen the Black Hawk as the platform we want to demonstrate full integration of ALIAS-type capabilities – that it provides a virtual co-pilot,” said Drozeski. “It can fly routes, plan routes, execute emergency procedures — and do all that perfectly.”

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