Sirkorski Demonstrates Unmanned Black Hawk

Mural 2 Flight

In cooperation with the U.S. Army, Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., successfully flew an unmanned Black Hawk helicopter recently in an effort to provide autonomous cargo delivery to soldiers on the battlefield.

The Optionally Piloted Black Hawk Demonstrator, known as Sikorsky’s Manned/Unmanned Resupply Aerial Lifter program, conducted the first flight demonstration on March 11 at Sikorsky’s Development Flight Center. The demonstration was conducted through the use of Sikorsky’s Matrix Technologies and advanced Ground Control Station Technologies.

“The autonomous Black Hawk helicopter provides the commander with the flexibility to determine crewed or un-crewed operations, increasing sorties while maintaining crew rest requirements,” Mark Miller, Sikorsky Vice President of Research & Engineering, said in a recent press release. “This allows the crew to focus on the more ‘sensitive’ operations, and leaves the critical resupply missions for autonomous operations without increasing fleet size or mix.”

The demonstrator achieved autonomous hover and flight operations while under the control of a man-portable, Ground Control Station, demonstrating the capability for expeditionary operations and critical cargo resupply.

The Manned/Unmanned Resupply Aerial Lifter, or MURAL, program is a cooperative effort between the Army Aviation Development Directorate, Army Utility Helicopters Project Office and Sikorsky. The project office is providing access to two UH-60MU Black Hawk helicopters and Sikorsky is applying the technology it has developed with Internal Research and Development funding.

Sikorsky has been developing the technology since 2007, and signed a Cooperative Research & Development Agreement with the U.S. Army in 2013 to advance the program to a formal effort to demonstrate the full-authority, flight-control system. The effort includes demonstration of expeditionary ground control systems and precision control.

The Army Aviation Development Directorate’s mission is to “focus on developing, demonstrating and applying critical technologies that enhance the capability, affordability, readiness and safety of Department of Defense aviation systems,” said Dr. William Lewis, Director, ADD. “The optionally piloted Black Hawk helicopter functionality stands to bring added value to DoD aviation systems, through the innovations being tested on the Black Hawk helicopter in the MURAL program.”

Sikorsky introduced its Matrix Technology, a major research program, in July 2013 to develop, test and field systems and software that will improve significantly the capability, reliability and safety of flight for autonomous, optionally piloted, and piloted vertical take-off and landing aircraft.

The Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft flew its first flight on July 26, 2013 and continues to explore new functionality in that portion of the program.


About the Author

Matt Cox
Matthew Cox is a reporter at He can be reached at
  • Bernard

    I love hearing these stories. Adding enhanced capabilities to existing equipment saving both lives and money in the process. This is awesome.

  • I agree with Bernard to a point./ BUT I think this use of deleting pilots period is a bad mistaken pointless since we have the best pilots out there and firing them for drones will only benefit our enemy’s We need more Raptor less drones in airplane plans for the future.

    • tiger

      Think ahead… Our schools are turning out kids who I would not valet park my car. Let alone become chopper pilots. Sad to say, but we can build a smart phone better than a smart phone user.

  • hibeam

    Unmanned Black Hawk Down. I like it. Now were cooking with gas.

  • Taylor

    I guess they will ultimately have a way to prevent the enemy from taking over the controls or blocking control to bring it down. We will always need manned aircraft too, in my opinion.

  • Connor Cook

    Now the question is, will they be more effective than having an actual pilot in the BlackHawk rather than a transmitter…

  • Hunter76

    They should fit a robot for almost every airframe in inventory.

  • Kostas

    I definitely see a role for cargo helicopters, but I also see a role of this technology in personnel transport helicopters. Currently all aerial vehicles that carry personnel have two pilots, for the rare event that something happens to one of the pilots, to have the second pilot land the aerial vehicle. With this technology, the back up (fail safe) mechanism would be this technology instead of the second pilot. That means immediate increase of the personnel carrying capability by one person and huge savings in personnel costs by cutting half the pilot force.

    • tiger

      Sounds like you want the Inflatable Auto pilot from “Airplane.”

  • Ronnie

    UFO’s have drone machines + UFO’,s with pilots. Small grey, rubbery folks with three fingers. They seem to be doing ok with the mix. The ride is uncomfortable and no toilet facilities, just like a helo without wires thatched.

  • Now, this would be a worthy technology to pursue rather than a stealth motorbike.

  • anthony

    Our kids will operate them in near future,they can do it now,some are doing similar things but in near future 2015home work is flying for some..

  • Muzyk

    Any one recalls the scene from “Aliens”, where Bishop pilots the Gunship/Lander down from the orbiting mothership via a Satelite uplink? ;)
    Being a kid it felt awsome, now it’s a dream come true :)

  • C-Low

    This makes much more sense than trying to sell a whole new airframe system. Using what we have and even better would be a package that could be upgraded into the existing fleet.

    Sikorsky will get big returns on this type of design think smart business is a refreshing sight in modern america.

  • blight_

    Perhaps the new plan is to use Apaches for scouts, and unmanned Blackhawks configured to carry racks of Hellfires or APKWS to keep the missiles coming.

  • Mystick

    So how does the AI/AP/machine react to damage… like can be expected under battlefield conditions?

  • BlackHawkUp

    I want my grandkid to be able to fly choppers just like I did. Although these Blackhawks seem much safer then the Hueys I flew.