Sikorsky has two goals in mind for its optionally manned S-70 helicopter: to make the autonomous technology easy to retrofit on existing aircraft for users like the U.S. Army, and to give pilots various modes of autonomy so they can commit more time toward their mission, according to company officials.
Sikorsky's original S-70 helicopter model would become the Army's UH-60 Black Hawk and spawn a family of helicopters used by multiple military services.
The company, now a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp., this week said it's progressing through its flight test program by incorporating more autonomy software and sensors onto the aircraft, with a fully autonomous flight projected sometime in 2020, said Igor Cherepinsky, Sikorsky Director of Autonomy
"We will show the world that this is capable... [of] being operated from the ground sometime next year," Cherepinsky said in a phone call with reporters Monday.
The Army is currently considering two advanced rotary-wing aircraft to replace the Black Hawk as part of the branch's Future Vertical Lift program, and after a year of firsts for Bell's tiltrotor V-280 Valor, Boeing and Sikorsky are raring to catch up in 2019 with the much-anticipated SB-1 Defiant.
At the end of June, Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky helicopter division signed a massive $3.8 billion Department of Defense contract for 257 UH-60 Black Hawk utility copters, destined for the U.S. Army and certain foreign military customers over the next five years. The contract, which included both the classic Black Hawk and its HH-60M MEDEVAC variant, includes opportunities for the Army to pick up an extra 103 aircraft, according to the Hartford Courant, a clause that would push the value of the deal as high as $5.2 billion through 2022.