C4iSR: Air

Aurora showcases new automation system on turboprop, prepares for military demo

18 October 2016
A cockpit equipped with Aurora's ALIAS system. The company has demonstrated automated flight capabilities with ALIAS flying a Cessna Caravan and is now preparing for its first demonstration on a military aircraft. Source: Aurora Flight Sciences

Aurora Flight Sciences has demonstrated the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA's) Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) onboard a Cessna Caravan single-engined turboprop aircraft and is now preparing to showcase the system on a military helicopter, the company announced on 17 October.

ALIAS functions as a second pilot in a two-crew aircraft. DARPA's intent with ALIAS was to create "a tailorable, drop-in, removable kit that would promote the addition of high levels of automation into existing aircraft, enabling operation with reduced onboard crew", according to the agency's website. The system would reduce pilot workload, improve mission performance, and increase aircraft safety. Key elements of the system include use of in-cockpit machine vision, non-invasive robotic components to actuate the flight controls, an advanced tablet-based user interface, speech recognition and synthesis, and a "knowledge acquisition" process that facilitates transition of the automation system to another aircraft within a 30-day period.

In the first phase of the programme, Aurora succeeded in developing a system that was tested on a simulator and in flight on a Diamond DA42 aircraft. In the second phase, the company installed it into the Cessna Caravan. Aurora is now installing the system onto a Bell UH-1 helicopter. "Demonstrating our automation system on the UH-1 and the Caravan will prove the viability of our system for both military and commercial applications," John Wissler, Aurora's vice president of research and development, said in a press statement. "ALIAS enables the pilot to turn over core flight functions and direct their attention to non-flight related issues such as adverse weather, potential threats, or even updating logistical plans."

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