Unmanned Black Hawk Helicopter flight at Fort Campbell could change military flight forever

Unmanned Black Hawk Helicopter
Posted at 3:56 PM, Feb 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-14 06:38:16-05

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (WTVF) — Your eyes aren't deceiving you.

DARPA — the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — released a video this week of a Black Hawk helicopter in the air, without a pilot or any other human on board.

"There was a little bit of a landing on the moon moment just amongst our group. You know — clapping and we were very excited we could do it," said Stuart Young, program manager of the Tactical Technology Office at DARPA.

The ALIAS program, which stands for Air Crew Labor In Cockpit Automation System, started a year and a half ago as a computer assistance resource for pilots, but this latest test at Fort Campbell shows that a pilot isn't even needed.

"We did fly a mission where we had simulated buildings in our way and we avoided them. We did that to demonstrate we’re not just going from A to B blindly, we can actually sense and avoid obstacles in the environment," Young said.

Young believes unmanned flight opens up a world of possibilities, from supply runs that can save money, to riskier missions that could save lives.

"That gives them the opportunity to say, you know what, I’m not going to risk the pilots but I will risk the aircraft to go give help to whoever might be in need," Young said.

He said the technology could also be used to give tired pilots a break during the middle of long flights or for when pilots are flying in more limited sight environments.

But NewsChannel 5 wanted to know: what do pilots think?

"Well in some ways, it’s kinda disappointing because I enjoy flying them so much, and then you have someone, or something, that can replace you," said Glen Cassle, a retired Army CW4 and Black Hawk Pilot.

Cassle's emotions were a little mixed. On one hand, he knows that in many cases, a computer might have better judgment than a human.

"I think it’s safe, I think what they’re doing is pretty amazing, I think that’s what we should be doing moving into the future," Cassle said.

But he also wonders, under enemy fire or if conditions change rapidly if the technology can be fully trusted.

"I think we’ll always have someone there that can perform the true, ongoing mission and be able to react to it on the spot, not secondary information," Cassle said.

Young says their current mission does not focus on evading enemy fire, but that the technology exists to be able to do that as well. Of course, the big question becomes, was this just a cool experiment or a sign of the future of the military as we know it?

"It’s not our place to tell them how to use it, it’s our job to show them it can be done," Young said.

Young said what the military does with the technology is up to the top brass, but if seeing is believing, video like this might become a more common sight.

DARPA and Sikorsky selected Fort Campbell as the test site to get it closer to those who might use the technology.

"Get it closer to the decision-makers in the Army to understand what it’s capable of doing. It makes it more believable and it increases their trust in the system by seeing this operating on an operational military base," Young said.