Marines Fly Helicopters With Mini-Tablet

Marines Fly Helicopters With Mini-Tablet

U.S. Marines recently landed K-MAX and MH-6 Little Bird helicopters autonomously using an i-Pad like mini-tablet device during a demonstration at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., Navy and Corps officials said.

“With one touch of a mini-tablet in their hand, they have been able to autonomously land a full-size helicopter onto an unprepared landing site,” said Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, Chief of Naval Research.

The technology, called Autonomous Aerial Cargo/Utility System or AACUS, uses advanced algorithms in conjunction with LIDAR and electro-optical/infrared, or EO/IR, sensor technology, Klunder explained.

“It’s got a combination of EO/IR and LIDAR built into the system connected to a light computer that allows the helicopter to land properly,” he said.

The sensors are engineered to enable the helicopter to navigate through what’s called a degraded visual environment, a term referring to instances where snow, fog, sand or inclement weather would otherwise complicate efforts to navigate or land the helicopter.

The helicopter appears as an icon or graphic over a digital map display on the mini-tablet used by Marines to direct the helicopter where to land. However, if sent to an obscured, blocked or less than ideal landing spot, the AACUS system can autonomously send a message to the operator with instructions to find a better landing location for the helicopter, Klunder explained.

Reducing the operator burden and being able to operate and land autonomously brings a wealth of advantages to forward-positioned forces, many of whom may need ammo, supplies, food, fuel or other cargo delivered in a high-threat environment.

“We’re talking about delivering 5,000 pounds of cargo and critical life-saving equipment safely to our sailors and marines. This is truly leap-ahead technology with one touch of a tablet,” Klunder said. “Now you have the ability to operate in more austere environments with unmanned aircraft.”

In addition to obvious military applications such as cargo delivery and medevac missions in combat, civil disaster relief and humanitarian operations could also benefit from AACUS technology, Klunder said.

With a weight of 100-pounds, the AACUS system is designed to easily integrate on a range of air platforms and could someday be configured to fly CH-53 Sea Knight or V-22 Osprey aircraft.

Furthermore, by removing the stress on manpower otherwise needed to operate aircraft, AACUS can enable 24/7 around the clock operations.

AACUS enables the helicopters to take-off, fly and land without needing to be tele-operated or remotely piloted. While demonstrated on two helicopters, the AACUS technology is engineered to be platform agnostic, meaning it could easily be configured to work with other aircraft.

The Marines have been flying unmanned helicopter cargo resupply missions in Afghanistan for months with the K-MAX helicopter now, however these helicopters need highly trained pilots to remotely navigate their every move to a prepared and pre-determined landing site, said Brig. Gen. Kevin Killea, Commanding General, Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory.

AACUS technology however, recently demonstrated that the same K-MAX helicopter can be autonomously piloted from a small mini-tablet, he added.

“This is taking UAS to the next level by introducing autonomy that works.  Unprepared landing site open up a myriad of landing possibilities in operating environments as opposed to the detailed planning you would have to go through today with cargo UAS,” Killea said.

A big advantage to the AACUS technology is that, unlike the training requirements for current unmanned aircraft system pilots, there is no particular training required to operate the system, Klunder explained.

The AACUS program began in 2012 and is slated to extend for at least five years at a cost of roughly just under $100 million, service leaders said.  The program is currently funded through 2018.

Upcoming phase II developments with AACUS will include the exploration of more advanced obstacle avoidance technology, Klunder and Killea added.  Phase II will also include testing the system in more difficult weather conditions and in GPS-denied environments.

The AACUS technology is currently made by Lockheed Martin and Aurora Flight Sciences, both of whom have been developing the system through a deal with the Office of Naval Research. As Navy and Marine Corps officials have said plans are to use a single AACUS system as the program moves forward.

Klunder said that AACUS is a year or two away from being ready for operational use.

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Don’t fly this thing to close to the border with Iran or they will steal the supplies and the chopper.
I really like the idea of resupply drones, but I hope they do a good job of ensuring that they don’t get hijacked.

It’s cool that we are hearing of this now.But it did not happen over night.I would guess ten years in the making?So what’s that you mean?We will be using it real soon in some far off place where it will be better not to have people on board when it needs to set down?I like that we lost too many good people in hot LZ’s in the past​.It should save many pilot’s for other things that will still need a real person to do.

Ken, this is not a new topic of conversation here.

Some examples of articles on the topic of unmanned K-Max posted here in recent years:

Lockheed touts Army K-MAX demonstration
By Philip Ewing Monday, June 4th, 2012 http://​www​.dodbuzz​.com/​2​0​1​2​/​0​6​/​0​4​/​l​o​c​k​h​e​e​d​-​t​o​uts–

Cargo UAV hopes brighten as Marines extend K-MAX
By Philip Ewing Wednesday, May 9th, 2012 http://​www​.dodbuzz​.com/​2​0​1​2​/​0​5​/​0​9​/​c​a​r​g​o​-​u​a​v​-​h​o​pes

SAS12: Marines plans rigorous cargo UAS tests
By Michael Hoffman Tuesday, April 17th, 2012 http://​www​.dodbuzz​.com/​2​0​1​2​/​0​4​/​1​7​/​s​a​s​1​2​-​m​a​r​i​n​e​s-p

K-MAX in Afghanistan
By Philip Ewing Monday, January 30th, 2012 http://​www​.dodbuzz​.com/​2​0​1​2​/​0​1​/​3​0​/​k​-​m​a​x​-​i​n​-​a​f​g​han

SNA: Lockheed’s K-MAX ambitions
By Philip Ewing Tuesday, January 10th, 2012 http://​www​.dodbuzz​.com/​2​0​1​2​/​0​1​/​1​0​/​s​n​a​-​l​o​c​k​h​e​e​d​s-k

I love the comments section because it really brings stories like this down to earth (so to speak). This was a demonstration of capability, nothing more. The Marines have been working with contractors for years to prove-out this prototype. There is still a lot of testing, development, and more testing before this becomes something from which a soldier can benefit. That’s not a bad thing, this is a natural evolution of remotely-piloted aircraft, and has a ton of benefits, but don’t expect to see RPV K-max’s doing ship-to-shore ops in exercises like the one going on in Korea before the end of the FY.

Like other said if a commercial style tablet can pilot one then it can be pirated by the enemy where it can be crashed or taken by the enemy and our men have no supplies. NEVER repeat NEVER take humans out of the loop when flying in combat this all drones approach Obama is heading for is dangerous and cripples our defense.

Okay, I’ll bite. You removed the pilot and co-pilot (if there is one) and installed this thing into the chopper. This is not a drone from what I understand. It’s a standard helo modified. So the guy on the ground needs a camera in it to see where it’s going and some sort of servo to control the collective, cyclic and throttle. I gather that would require the guy on the ground to know how to fly a helicopter (not actually that easy by the way), so we’re talking about a helicopter pilot on the ground with the mud marines. I suspect the pilot won’t be one bit happy with that idea.

Sorry, just being picky on an minor point of fact, truly — the Sea Knight helicopter is a CH-46. CH-53 helos are Sea Stallions or Super Stallions or Sea Dragons, depending on their configuration. And while “…months…” is not necessarily incorrect, that term kinda diminishes the length of time over which the USMC have been flying unmanned K-MAX helos in country; it’s actually been something over two years, I believe, and reports are that is has served very well. As for the worry that an enemy will hijack a cargo drone, trucks and trailers and all sorts of materiel are lost to the enemy during conflict, either by theft or successful attack. That’s war, baby.

You said it doesn’t require any special training. Can I do this as a part time job? But I quit at 5.


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