Navigating the Skies: NASA's Autonomous Helicopter



NASA achieves a significant milestone as its autonomous flight software takes the lead in orchestrating two Sikorsky helicopters over Long Island Sound. Collaborating with Sikorsky and DARPA, NASA's groundbreaking experiment uses its navigation software to guide helicopters flying autonomously, avoiding virtual obstacles. This technological feat marks a stride towards fully autonomous flight systems, a pivotal step in NASA's quest for futuristic air taxis and automated air transportation.


In a groundbreaking endeavor, NASA, in collaboration with Sikorsky and DARPA, has ushered in a new era of aviation through autonomous flight software. The experimental flight, conducted over Long Island Sound, featured two Sikorsky helicopters, the SARA S-76B and the OPV Black Hawk, navigating autonomously with precision. This collaborative effort aimed to test and evaluate multiple Advanced Air Mobility autonomous flight software products designed by NASA.

*The Autonomous Ballet in the Skies:*

In late October, against the backdrop of Long Island Sound, NASA pilots and Sikorsky safety pilots witnessed an aerial ballet where two autonomous helicopters seamlessly danced through the clouds. The helicopters, fitted with NASA-designed software, embarked on a series of test flights, avoiding virtual aircraft in a simulated environment. Notably, this marked the first instance of two autonomous aircraft navigating towards each other using NASA's collision avoidance software.

*Collaboration for a Skyward Future:*

The collaboration between NASA, Sikorsky, and DARPA aimed to collect crucial data for advancing completely autonomous flight systems. With an eye on the future of air transportation, including air taxis, the test flights utilized Sikorsky's SARA and OPV helicopters, integrating NASA-designed software systems. This synergy showcased the ability to stack technologies, progressively increasing automation in a sustainable and scalable manner.

*Tablets as Aviation Maestros:*

Loaded with five NASA-designed software systems, the helicopters' flight autonomy was orchestrated through tablets specially designed by the agency. The tablets not only facilitated autonomous flight along planned routes but also empowered safety pilots to monitor and make course corrections when necessary. This seamless integration exemplified the harmonious interaction between human pilots, NASA software, and Sikorsky's flight autonomy system.

*Human Interaction and User Experience:*

Safety pilots aboard each helicopter played a pivotal role in observing and supervising software-initiated commands. Additionally, NASA researchers equipped these pilots with specially designed glasses to analyze their interaction with navigation tablets. The collected user experience data will contribute to refining visual and interactive designs for future iterations of the software and tablets.

*Successful Flight Symphony:*

The team executed 12 successful flights, covering 70 different flight test maneuvers, accumulating over 30 flight hours for each aircraft. This achievement not only showcased the capabilities of NASA's autonomous flight software but also set a foundation for further testing of automation technology. The collaboration demonstrated the potential for autonomous systems to revolutionize aviation, offering enhanced safety and efficiency.

*Mixed-Reality Airspace Prowess:*

A highlight of the tests was the demonstration of the software's capabilities in a mixed-reality setting. Virtual aircraft, representing future Advanced Air Mobility airspace scenarios, were seamlessly integrated into the helicopters' flight path. The software orchestrated adjustments in altitude, speed, and direction, avoiding virtual collisions and maintaining orbital patterns for landing.


As NASA, Sikorsky, and DARPA harmonize their efforts in the skies over Long Island Sound, a symphony of autonomous flight unfolds. The successful collaboration not only marks a leap forward in autonomous aviation but also lays the groundwork for a future where automated air transportation becomes a reality. NASA's navigation software, akin to an aviation maestro, conducts a pioneering orchestra in the vast expanse of the skies.

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