The announcement was made this week at the AUVSI Unmanned Systems conference in Florida and follows more than a year of research and design, which resulted in the company and U.S. Army in April demonstrating the ability of a UH-60M Upgrade Optionally Piloted Black Hawk to conduct autonomous flight and autonomous cargo resupply.
"While today we are announcing the creation of a proof-of-concept aircraft, Sikorsky is already prepared to ramp up system conversions per year as demand requires," said Samir Mehta, Sikorsky's president of Defense Systems & Services. "We are considering potential development partners and look forward to working with the Department of Defense and other customers to mature this concept and its associated operations."
Sikorsky said the optionally-pilot Black Hawk variant will involve conversion of a retired UH-60 that will be inducted for the program later this month. During the build, Sikorsky will perform a series of technology maturation tests using an autonomy research aircraft based on the company's S-76 commercial helicopter.
The UH-60 conversion will build on the success of its Matrix Technology and Manned/Unmanned Resupply Aerial Lifter autonomy programs to deliver a new level of mission flexibility to combat and logistic planners. The aircraft will have internal and external cargo capability, be able to lift as much as 9,000 pounds, and have a high cruise speed.
"The autonomous Black Hawk will provide affordable, reliable, high-speed resupply to the warfighter in the harshest conditions at a cost per ton mile that competes with ground convoys," said Mark Miller, vice president of Research & Engineering.