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DARPA flies a Black Hawk helicopter without a pilot for 30 minutes

The Black Hawk is kitted out with Sikorsky Matrix autonomous flying technology.

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Corinne Reichert Senior Editor
Corinne Reichert (she/her) grew up in Sydney, Australia and moved to California in 2019. She holds degrees in law and communications, and currently writes news, analysis and features for CNET across the topics of electric vehicles, broadband networks, mobile devices, big tech, artificial intelligence, home technology and entertainment. In her spare time, she watches soccer games and F1 races, and goes to Disneyland as often as possible.
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Corinne Reichert

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has flown a UH-60A Black Hawk helicopter without a pilot for the first time ever. DARPA's Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System program was used to fly the helicopter on autopilot over Fort Campbell, Kentucky, on Saturday.

The Black Hawk was kitted out with Sikorsky Matrix autonomous flying technology, and DARPA says it repeated the "uninhabited flight" on Monday.

"Pilots can focus on mission management instead of the mechanics," Stuart Young, program manager in DARPA's Tactical Technology Office, said in a statement. "ALIAS ... includes the ability to operate aircraft at all times of the day or night, with and without pilots, and in a variety of difficult conditions, such as contested, congested, and degraded visual environments."

DARPA Black Hawk

DARPA's ALIAS program was used to fly the helicopter autonomously.

DARPA

The US military has been experimenting with autonomous helicopters for years. For instance, the Navy has been evaluating Northrop Grumman's unmanned MQ-8C Fire Scout for close to a decade, and a self-flying K-Max helicopter delivered cargo to Marines in remote locations in Afghanistan.

DARPA has also been scoping out other autonomous aircraft technology, from humble helicopter robotic landing gear to concepts for futuristic delivery drones and X-Planes.