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Fort Campbell flies Black Hawk helicopters — without pilots — for the first time


The Army’s first automated flight of an empty Black Hawk helicopter took place at Fort Campbell over the weekend and on Monday. The UH-60 aircraft was retrofitted with new technology developed by the Defense Department’s research arm, DARPA.

During a half-hour flight, the 14,000-pound helicopter — unmanned and unarmed — successfully navigated around Fort Campbell as if it was downtown Manhattan, according to engineers who briefed reporters Tuesday. It was the first time the system known as ALIAS, which is being tested with 14 different military aircraft, flew entirely on its own.

The 6-year-old ALIAS program started out as a “digital co-pilot,” says Sikorsky Innovations director Igor Cherepinsky. Now it’s graduated to become an autonomous pilot but could still be used in tandem with an onboard pilot. He says the Army will determine how to use the technology, which could eventually be called upon to do dangerous medical evacuations in battle zones.

“One of the reasons we’re here in Fort Campbell, quite frankly, it’s home to some of the most forward-thinking folks who fly rotary wing aircraft,” he said. “You could certainly see their minds working how to use this.”

The 101st Airborne as well as the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment are based at Fort Campbell.

In the near term, Cherepinsky says it’s more likely the fully automated Black Hawks could be used to dump water on wildfires or fly “boring” delivery missions.

“We just want to show the art of the possible and the ideas will start rolling in,” he says. “And they already have.”

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