Sikorsky has been awarded a $10 million contract for phase 2 of a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) effort to automate existing military aircraft cockpits.

The aircrew labor in-cockpit automation system (ALIAS) program seeks a “tailorable, drop-in, removable kit that would promote the addition of high levels of automation into existing aircraft, enabling operation with reduced onboard crew,” DARPA said.

UH-60 Black Hawk Photo: Sikorsky
UH-60 Black Hawk
Photo: Sikorsky

DARPA wants to use advances in commercial aircraft cockpit technology, particularly fly-by-wire controls and auto-pilot systems to reduce the workload on military pilots and crews. It is looking for an affordable conversion kit that can give both existing helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft autopilot capabilities and potentially turn them into optionally manned aircraft.

Sikorsky in March was awarded a contract for Phase 1 of the program, along with Aurora Flight Sciences and Lockheed Martin [LMT]. The first phase involved development of the kit and integration with aircraft representative of the military’s fixed-wing and rotorcraft.

The addition of the ALIAS Phase II program lifts the total contract award from $8,066,058 to $22,746,633. Fiscal 2015 research, development, test and evaluation funds in the amount of $9,787,539 are being obligated at time of award, according to a notice posted Aug. 19 on the government’s contracting website.

Phase II will involve polishing and updating the ALIAS requirements, along with system integration, software verification and flight demonstrations, DARPA said. Sikorsky will conduct flight demonstration of the autonomous crew enhancement system (ACES) on a UH-60L Black Hawk during a cargo-resupply mission and full demonstration of the ACES system on a fixed-wing aircraft.

“The primary objectives of the Phase II option effort are to enhance and mature the Phase I system to support flight tests, enhance the usability and robustness of the human interface, and demonstrate system portability on the ground,” according to government documents.

Sikorsky already has outfitted an S-76B commercial helicopter with its Matrix technology, which allows autonomous flight in “complex missions in close proximity to obstacles,” according to the company’s website. The Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft, or SARA, is being used to validate fly-by-wire controls and autonomous systems for transition to military aircraft like the UH-60.