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Autonomous chopper flies formation

Sikorsky Innovations has flown a full-scale Black Hawk helicopter in formation with a lead Black Hawk without pilot intervention. The feat was achieved June 4 using a modified Black Hawk from the U.S. Army Aeroflightdynamics Directorate. It flew in formation with an unmodified Black Hawk.

The system is completely passive, using a single visual range camera, and requires no modifications in the lead aircraft, thus placing no special requirements on the aircraft. It can be used to follow an unmodified Black Hawk helicopter or modified to follow other types of helicopters.

The objective is to reduce a helicopter pilot’s workload by automating routine formation flight. The system will allow a pilot to designate a lead aircraft and engage the system to maintain flight at a specified relative position.

The formation flight was the first of many flights to develop the capabilities made possible through fly-by-wire flight controls.

Alton Marsh
Alton K. Marsh
Freelance journalist
Alton K. Marsh is a former senior editor of AOPA Pilot and is now a freelance journalist specializing in aviation topics.

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