“Matrix will evolve and adapt over time. Once the architecture is in place, it allows the incorporation of apps from Sikorsky and its partners that expand the capability,” says Carleton. “We have been developing the technology for a number of years, including the participation of United Technologies Research Center in algorithm development. We have a full hardware-in-the-loop simulation capability to carry out a significant amount of testing on software we take to flight, so we can move rapidly through flight test.”
The S-67 Matrix testbed, or Sikorsky Autonomous Research Aircraft, has been equipped with an FBW flight control system. “We have interfaced with the aircraft in a cost-conscious way, to dispel the notion that full-authority fly-by-wire has to be expensive,” says Cherepinsky. High-performance computers run the autonomous mission management framework—an open system architecture that includes the world model, sensor interfaces and the application programming interface that allows apps to be developed to add capability to the vehicle.
Based at Sikorsky's test center in West Palm Beach, Fla., the S-76 retains its original flight-control system for safety, and pilots will be able to move back and forth between autonomous, manual and full-authority FBW as algorithms are developed and tested. “We call it our crewed flight termination system,” says Miller.
The S-76 will be equipped with a multi-spectral perception suite, intended to be portable to other platforms, but other sensor systems can be used. “Matrix is scalable. We will add autonomy to the UH-60MU, which does not have as robust sensors,” says Carleton. “What is critical is that the aircraft is equipped with the sensors that give it information on the environment where it operates. The closer to the ground, the more sensors are needed,” says Miller.
The S-76 and the UH-60MU, acquired from the U.S. Army, and one of two fly-by-wire Black Hawk prototypes will demonstrate the Matrix program KPPs. These are structured as “specific attributes that are meaningful in the helicopter domain,” says Miller, and include low-level autonomous flight, landing on unprepared surfaces and ships, operation in degraded visual environments, man-rated reliability and—with an eye toward fielding—reduced life-cycle cost.