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Black Hawk helicopter flies for first time without a pilot on board

By Ellie Kaufman, CNN

A Black Hawk helicopter took its first autonomous flight without a pilot on board on Saturday at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

The helicopter flew for 30 minutes without any passengers on board first on Saturday and again on Monday, according to a release from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Department of Defense’s research arm.

The test flight is a part of DARPA’s Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) program, which aims to put “removable kits” into already existing military aircrafts to “promote the addition of high-level automation,” the program’s webpage says.

The Black Hawk helicopter, a UH-60A model, had Sikorsky MATRIX autonomous technology installed in it to make the helicopter fly without needing a pilot. Sikorsky MATRIX is a technology produced by the company Lockheed Martin.

“With reduced workloads pilots can focus on mission management instead of the mechanics,” said Stuart Young, program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office said in a release about the successful test flight. “This unique combination of autonomy software and hardware will make flying both smarter and safer.”

The ALIAS program has “leveraged the considerable advances in aircraft automation systems over the past 50 years,” the release said.

Young said autonomous helicopters, like the Black Hawk tested in this instance, will help Army pilots better achieve their missions.

“With ALIAS, the Army will have much more operational flexibility,” Young added in the release. “This 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.”

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