Control System Could Be Retrofitted To Several Other
Aero-News learned Thursday that on June 30, Boeing's Unmanned
Little Bird (ULB) technology demonstrator helicopter flew unmanned
for the first time.
The test occurred at the US Army's Yuma Proving Ground in Yuma,
AZ, about 130 miles from the Boeing Rotorcraft facility in Mesa, AZ
where Boeing has tested the aircraft -- a modified MD530F
single-turbine helicopter -- over the past two years with a safety
pilot on board.
Boeing reports that for the truly unmanned test, the aircraft
lifted off from a helipad, hovered briefly and flew a programmed
armed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission around
the proving ground. After the 20-minute flight, the aircraft
returned to the helipad and landed within six inches of the planned
Prior to the fully unmanned demonstration, the ULB Demonstrator
had flown more than 450 hours of engineering flight test time as a
rapid prototyping platform, developing and integrating the sensors
and systems necessary to create an operational unmanned aerial
"Expansion of the flight envelope to include true unmanned
flight is a major milestone for the program and opens doors to a
wide range of applications for this aircraft," said Dino Cerchie,
Advanced Systems program manager for the ULB Demonstrator and
A/MH-6X Little Bird programs, a part of Advanced Rotorcraft Systems
for Boeing. "Previous autonomous demonstrations with this aircraft
have included target identification, precision re-supply,
communication relay and weapons firings."
The ULB Demonstrator mission payload for the first unmanned
flight weighed more than 740 pounds, not including fuel weight. The
aircraft lifted off at 3,000 pounds, but could have added an
additional 550 pounds of payload.
The A/MH-6X configuration, which is expected to make its first
flight later this summer, adds an additional 800 pounds of payload
to the ULB Demonstrator design, giving it even greater flexibility
in the field.
"The Unmanned Little Bird offers
potential operators a low-cost, multi-purpose aircraft that will
provide manned or unmanned options in combat, making it a versatile
and easily deployable asset on future battlefields," said Cerchie.
"We are clearly demonstrating the unmatched advantages of combining
a cost-effective, proven airframe with emerging manned-unmanned
network centric technologies."
The prototype aircraft is validating an autonomous flight
control system that could be added to any manned aircraft. This
automated flight control system includes integrated weapons
systems, sensors and a ground control station.
Cerchie said the entire package could be retrofitted to most
existing rotorcraft. One candidate for remotely operating a ULB
aircraft is the AH-64D Apache Longbow multi-role combat helicopter,
which already has demonstrated such capabilities during UAV test