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Erickson and Sikorsky have signed a development agreement to integrate Sikorsky’s Matrix Technology for semi-autonomous and autonomous operation into the S-64 Air Crane.
The technology will power the next generation flight controls and navigations systems Erickson is developing for the heavy-lift juggernaut, with the aim of enhancing cockpit awareness and flight crew safety during day and night firefighting operations.
“We can start to look at how do we optimize the way that we fight fires,” said Hayden Olson, Erickson’s VP of aerosystems. “Erickson is committed to that because we feel like this mission, and the heroes that operate this mission are too important for us not to take the best technology that are available and try to figure out the most comprehensive solution that’s safe and efficient.”
The agreement will culminate with a demonstration of the technology in the S-64 in 2021.
“Our engineering crews are working hard right now to get the technology and work on the integration plan,” said Olson. “The way that matrix is designed, it has a really good application in legacy aircraft. And so for us, that was another reason why this technology was so important to apply to a to an Air Crane, and we’re looking forward to this integration.”
Sikorsky announced the launch of the Matrix Technology program in 2013, and it has been maturing it on two products: the Sikorsky Autonomy Research Aircraft (SARA) — a customized S-76B, and an optionally piloted UH-60A Black Hawk.
The system is being developed with the capability to adapt to different missions and aircraft types, and switch between modes enabling flight with two, one, or no pilot/s.
“It’s interesting how similar the system is, and how adaptable it is, to port from the Black Hawk to the [S-]64,” said Chris Van Buiten, Sikorsky’s VP of innovation. “Towards the end of this year, we’ll start flying operations [with the Black Hawk] with the switch in the zero position [full autonomy]. Right now, it’s flying augmenting two crew.”
At last year’s Heli-Expo, Sikorsky announced the S-92B (an upgraded version of the S-92) would become the first production aircraft to incorporate the technology.
Erickson has been the original equipment manufacturer of the S-64 since 1994, after purchasing the type certificate for the aircraft from Sikorsky.