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Sikorsky achieves first Black Hawk autonomous formation flight

July 21, 2010, Farnborough, U.K. - The first flight of the Sikorsky Autonomous Formation Flying (AFF) system was carried out on June 4 by Sikorsky Innovations, the technology development organization of Sikorsky Aircraft.


The demonstration used the Sikorsky AFF system implemented on the U.S. Army Aeroflightdynamics Directorate’s (AFDD) JUH-60A RASCAL aircraft, flying in formation with an unmodified EH-60L aircraft. The AFF Project is aimed to reduce a helicopter pilot’s workload by automating routine formation flight. The AFF system will allow a pilot to designate a lead aircraft and engage the system to maintain flight at a specified relative position.

“The AFF control system is the first in a series of demonstrations showcasing Sikorsky Aircraft’s competence in autonomy,” said Mark Miller, Vice President of Engineering. “This is the first in a series of planned technology demonstrations that highlight our capabilities in key areas to promote autonomous flight, including, sensing, control, and system integration.”

The AFF system demonstrated is completely passive, as it uses 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 another type of helicopter.

The AFF control system is another example of new capabilities enabled by fly-by-wire technology (FBW), and is another in a series of demonstrations that highlight the importance of FBW and the new capabilities it brings to the customer.

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