On November 8, 2016 autonomous aircraft from Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky successfully worked together to complete staged fire and search-and-rescue missions for the first time in history. The drills were conducted at Griffiss International Airport in upstate New York, a FAA approved UAV testing site.
A small remote controlled Indago quad-copter drone was used to identify a staged blaze using thermal imaging technology. The data gathered by the drone was then transmitted to another unmanned K-Max cargo helicopter. The K-Max then retrieved a bucket of fire retardant material and used it to smother and extinguish the fire.
A fixed-wing unmanned Desert Hawk III was then dispatched to search for a simulated “lost camper.” Data gathered from its infrared sensors was then transmitted to a SARA, or Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft, S-76 helicopter that, with minimal human guidance and not a single human soul on board, used its autonomous sensors to select a suitable landing site. The “survivor” was then picked up by the autonomous aircraft and returned home safely with minimal human guidance.
A demonstration of these autonomous aircraft in action can be seen below:
Igor Cherepinsky, a leader of Sikorsky’s autonomy department, states that the cooperation between the SARA and K-Max aircraft was developed in less than a week. Cooperation between Lockheed and Sikorsky programs are expected to bring great advancements in the field of autonomous aircraft if cooperation continues.