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DARPA’s Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) program envisions flight operations with reduced onboard aircrew while improving mission performance and flight safety—all through a tailorable, drop-in, removable kit that would provide advanced automation to existing aircraft. In two important steps toward that goal, DARPA has recently completed Phase 2 of this development effort and has decided to partner on Phase 3 of ALIAS with Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company (Stratford, Conn.).

ALIAS’ Phase 2 accomplishments included:

  • Successful flight demonstrations of ALIAS technology installed in two different Cessna 208 Caravan fixed-wing aircraft, a Diamond DA-42 fixed-wing aircraft, and a Sikorsky S-76 helicopter
  • Successful ground demonstrations of ALIAS responding to various simulated flight contingency events, such as system failures, that might cause pilots to deviate from pre-set plans or standard courses of action
  • Demonstration of quickly tailoring ALIAS to new platforms, and showing that installation and removal of the kit did not impact airworthiness

Sikorsky’s Phase 2 demonstration system fits under the cabin floor and within the airframe of both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. The system quickly connects to an aircraft’s existing mechanical, electrical, and diagnostic systems. Through ALIAS, the pilot flies the aircraft by means of a tablet computer that recognizes familiar gestures such as swiping and tapping. Pilots can use the same tablet to fly ALIAS-equipped airplanes and helicopters.

“In Phase 2, we exceeded our original program objectives with two performers, Sikorsky and Aurora Flight Sciences, each of which conducted flight tests on two different aircraft,” said Scott Wierzbanowski, DARPA program manager. “In Phase 3, we plan to further enhance ALIAS’ ability to respond to contingencies, decrease pilot workload, and adapt to different missions and aircraft types. We’re particularly interested in exploring intuitive human-machine interface approaches—including using handheld devices—that would allow users to interact with and control the ALIAS system more easily. Ultimately, we want to design for and demonstrate the improved ALIAS system across as many as seven previously untested fixed- and rotary-wing platforms.”

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Army, and the U.S. Navy have all expressed interest in ALIAS’ potential capabilities and are providing support to the program. These stakeholders and DARPA intend to continue working closely with the commercial and government aerospace community to identify potential transition opportunities for ALIAS technology.

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