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Unmanned And Autonomous Aircraft Complete Firefighting And Rescue Missions For The First Time

November 16, 2016

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.