Aurora successfully demonstrates Autonomous UH-1H helicopter at Marine Corps Base Quantico



On Dec. 13, Aurora Flight Sciences conducted a successful demonstration of its autonomous helicopter system, which was developed under the Office of Naval Research’s (ONR) Autonomous Aerial Cargo Utility System (AACUS) program.

Over the course of several flights at Marine Corps Base Quantico’s Urban Training Center in Quantico, Virginia, the AACUS-Enabled UH-1H (AEH-1) demonstrated its ability to “autonomously execute resupply missions in relevant and austere settings.”

AACUS, which is an “aircraft-agnostic hardware and software suite,” allows a Marine on the ground to use a handheld tablet to request a supply delivery via helicopter. No advanced training is required to operate the system.

With its onboard lidar and camera sensors, AEH-1 can detect and avoid obstacles, as well as evaluate the landing zone. The system processes this information so that it can perform onboard mission, route, and path planning to enable the execution of an autonomous mission.

“The Marines’ vision for the future of vertical lift operation and support is optionally piloted aircraft,” says AACUS Program Manager Stephen Chisarik.

“Aurora’s system enables any rotary-wing aircraft to detect and react to hazards in the flight path, and make appropriate adjustments to keep the aircraft safe.”

This was the first demonstration in which the aircraft performed cargo and utility missions in an “operationally relevant training environment” with Marine interaction. During the demonstration, Marines loaded supplies for the aircraft, and then cleared the autonomy system for autonomous takeoff.

The Dec. 13 flights were the final demonstration to ONR, Department of Defense representatives and other senior officials, capping off a very successful five-year Innovative Naval Prototype (INP) program.

Now that the third and final phase of the program is complete, AACUS will transition to the Marine Corps for experimentation and potential acquisition.

“We’ve developed this great capability ahead of requirements and it’s up to us to determine how to use it,” says Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, commanding general, Marine Corps Combat Development Command.

“The young Marines today have grown up in a tech-savvy society, which is an advantage. We’ve got to keep pushing and moving this technology forward.”