Redstone Report: 'Unmanned' Army helicopter takes flight - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Redstone Report: 'Unmanned' Army helicopter takes flight

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) -

Recently, an Army helicopter took off for a test flight in the Diablo Mountain Range of San Jose, California.  But this test flight was a little different…there was no one in the pilot's seat.

While pilots were on board to take over in case of an emergency, the "unmanned" Black Hawk did all the work.  From navigating a field obstacle course to finding a safe place to land, the helicopter did it all autonomously.  Right now, autonomous aircrafts are flown remotely by pilots or system operators for a preprogrammed flight. But this system can take into account obstacles that it comes across and change paths without being told to do so by a pilot.

The helicopter uses a laser system that can scan ahead of the aircraft and create a 3-D image. The system then reads that 3-D image to identify the lay of the land and any obstacles and then determines the best path to get to the target area.

Layne Merritt, the Chief Engineer of Aviation Development at Redstone Arsenal, believes this type of automation will give solider the upper hand "by taking some of the tasks and workload off of them. Whether it be a mundane things, like monitoring the systems status, or actually conducting the flight."

The US Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development, and Engineering Center is behind this project.  While the center has many bases, AMRDEC is headquartered in Huntsville at Redstone Arsenal.

This autonomous system is still in the initial stages, but Merritt hopes that future test flights will push the envelope and fly at lower altitudes and higher speeds.

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