NASA Autonomous Flight Software Could Be Flying Vehicle Game Changer

Two helicopters from a Lockheed Martin subsidiary tested the software as part of a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency collaboration

Scarlett Evans, Assistant Editor, IoT World Today

January 31, 2024

2 Min Read
NASA pilots along with Sikorsky safety pilots flying Sikorsky’s Black Hawk Optionally Piloted Vehicle, left, and SARA S-76B
NASA pilots along with Sikorsky safety pilots flying Sikorsky’s Black Hawk Optionally Piloted Vehicle, left, and SARA S-76BNASA

NASA has successfully deployed its autonomous navigation software in two experimental helicopters, in a potentially game-changing step for flying vehicles.

The software was tested in two helicopters from Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin subsidiary, as part of a collaboration with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). 

The Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft (SARA) and the larger Optionally Piloted Vehicle (OPV) Black Hawk were both adapted for autonomous systems.

“These flight tests using Sikorsky’s SARA and OPV helicopters show how we can stack technologies together to increase automation over time in a maintainable and scalable way,” said Adam Yingling, NASA’s project lead. “These efforts demonstrate that we can safely integrate operations to fly the aircraft using several technologies in one navigation tablet.” 

The system was previously tested in a simulation last October, with the software assessed for its collision avoidance and autonomous flight capabilities.  

In the real-life test, NASA’s team flew 12 successful flights covering 70 different flight test maneuvers and generating more than 30 flight hours for each aircraft. 

The tests also assessed how human pilots interacted with the autonomous systems. NASA’s pilots were outfitted with specially designed glasses to monitor how long they interacted with the navigation tablets and how they physiologically responded to information. 

Related:NASA to Develop Air Taxi Software


Test data will be used for “further testing” of automation technology for next-generation flying vehicles, according to the companies.

“This NASA, Sikorsky and DARPA collaboration will help usher in a new era of autonomy in aviation that could save lives, aircraft and resources,” a statement from the companies reads. “NASA uses these tests to support the integration of automated systems research that will inform the Federal Aviation Administration with data on flight procedures to help introduce Advanced Air Mobility systems into the national airspace.”

About the Author(s)

Scarlett Evans

Assistant Editor, IoT World Today

Scarlett Evans is the assistant editor for IoT World Today, with a particular focus on robotics and smart city technologies. Scarlett has previous experience in minerals and resources with Mine Australia, Mine Technology and Power Technology. She joined Informa in April 2022.

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