Going beyond remote-controlled technology that currently exists for aircraft, the Office of Naval Research is spearheading the development of a new rotary-wing aircraft software and sensor system that would bring autonomous approaches and landings via manned or unmanned helicopters.
According to ONR, the Autonomous Aerial Cargo/Utility System (AACUS) is designed to provide, “autonomous approaches and landings at unprepared landing sites, minimally supervised by field operators with no special training,” for manned or unmanned rotary-wing aircraft.
“This is a Navy-Marine Corps team project,” said Rear Adm. Matt Klunder, chief of naval research. “We’ve taken a landing system that can autonomously land an unmanned helicopter or aircraft into a very dangerous landing zone, potentially with the touch of a tablet. This is an expeditionary type of capability and there was no better place to test it than Quantico.”
During February and March, Marine Corps Base Quantico hosted demonstrations at Range 15 for Marine Corps and Navy leaders and ONR representatives.
“Having Quantico so close to the Office of Naval Research and being able to work here and use the airspace and ranges in a realistic scenario has been very positive for the program,” said Capt. David Woodbury, director for the ONR’s Naval Air Warfare and Weapons Department. “[Part of the purpose] is to get hardware and software out in front of Marines. Let them see what these types of systems can do.”
Quantico Marines assisted in setting up equipment to present the prototypes.
“First of all, Quantico is a tremendous, tremendous facility,” said Klunder. “I do truly want to give a shout out to the Quantico team for the operational and facility support provided to make this happen in such a seamless, efficient way.”
The AACUS program is a $98-million, five-year effort to provide this autonomous capability to the Marine Corps and Navy and has the potential to make an impact in mission accomplishment. The system is a result of the effort to develop a method, other than convoys or manned helicopters, of delivering supplies to the battlefield safely and expediently.
“Truly, as we bring this out to our brothers and sisters in the Corps, we are talking about safely bringing all our Marines home, resupply, and potentially rescue of Marines,” said Klunder. “This may be able to help us in a tremendous way in the future to do just that.”
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