Helicopters are now foolproof thanks to US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Together with Lockheed Martin they have rebuilt a commercial helicopter so that almost anyone can fly it.
Simple instructions from your tablet
"We also had a non-pilot who trained every 45 minutes to get the plane up and running for almost an hour," said Sikorsky's autonomy director Igor Cherepinsky.
The interface for flying the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter is managed by a tablet whose interface is called The Matrix. It's not as easy as dodging bullets, but it can fly a helicopter successfully. While pilots were still pilots in Virginia during the test flights, LIDAR cameras are used to launch, land and avoid obstacles.
But how did this program start?
The beginning of alias
The mission is part of a program developed by DARPA called Aircrew Laboratory In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS). The demonstration started in January 2016, with the user tapping the basic instructions and the computer doing the rest. When it came to more precision, the pilots could control the computer with a joystick-like "inceptor" instead of using hands and feet. The computer then converted its broad commands into specific settings for the controls.
"It really is like a co-pilot, it can fly routes, it can plan routes, it can run emergency procedures – and it can all be perfect," said DARPA program manager Graham Drozeski.
Optionally, manned missions are just the beginning for DARPA and Lockheed Martin.
The future of self-propelled helicopters
The $ 8 million research program seeks to create an optional manned unmanned flight experience to reduce the pilot's work.
Lockheed Martin and DARPA are now working to put together a similar system in a Black Hawk helicopter.