back to article US Army demos first robot Black Hawk helicopter

The US Army has reported the successfully completion of a two-hour low-level test flight by an automated Black Hawk helicopter dubbed RASCAL, aka the Rotorcraft Aircrew Systems Concept Airborne Laboratory. "This was the first time terrain-aware autonomy has been achieved on a Black Hawk," said Lt. Col. Carl Ott, test pilot and …


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  1. NoneSuch Silver badge

    " the self-driving car is working fine and five years form being street-legal."

    Should be "...five years FROM being..."

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yes but

      A pilot is needed to push in the circuit breakers when they pop out, then push it in when it pops out again, and again and again until finally just before the crash they can call out. Mayday Mayday Ma...........

    2. Chris 244

      Send Corrections

      Of note, there is a "Send corrections" link at the bottom of every article. For, you know, pointing out typos and such.

      1. Martin Budden Silver badge

        Re: Send Corrections

        True, but with at least three typos in this article, I can't help but wonder if it would be easier for everyone (including the author) if the author simply proof-read the article before clicking the "Embarrass Myself" button.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Send Corrections

          How many times did you check your post before submitting? :)

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @ Martin


          That's crazy-talk, man!

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "Send Corrections" link

        It's blackholed.

    3. JeffUK

      Looks like el reg's automated defense correspondent needs tweaking before it's safe to be allowed to fly on its own :)

  2. Affian

    What we really want...

    So how long until we can get a quadrocopter on mars?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Helicopters are complex..

    So why does indra have one fully automated helicopter that "lands" on moving ships?

    My guess is because it is difficult, so somepeople are going to sort it out, while others just siphon public money..

    AC.. as I work for indra..

    1. Chris 244

      Re: Helicopters are complex..

      Because the Pelicano is to an RC helicopter as the Blackhawk is to a Pelicano or two.

      Dry weights:

      Intrepid Magnum 44 RC: 6 kg

      Pelicano: ~120 kg (max takeoff wt 200kg less 52 l fuel and 30kg payload)

      Blackhawk: 4800 kg

      Oh, and apparently Indra doesn't so much make the Pelicano as modify a CybAero APID 60. Which is an unmanned helicopter capable of, you guessed it, autonomous takeoff and landing. Keep sucking at that teat, AC.

    2. SkippyBing

      Re: Helicopters are complex..

      Because landing on a ship, a single point on a flat plane, is a relatively simple task vs low level flight over a non uniform surface and then locating a suitable area to land.

      But you keep doing the easy stuff.

      1. ukgnome

        Re: Helicopters are complex..

        "Because landing on a ship, a single point on a flat plane, is a relatively simple task"

        I guess that you don't know much about shipping then. Even on calm seas a ship is not on one plane, they move around quite a bit and often in all directions at once.

  4. Martin 50
    Black Helicopters

    You know the upcoming trial of your new autonomous helicoptor software...we've booked you a seat.

    "Inside the helicopter for the flight was the RASCAL systems operator, along with developer" - I find people in my office manage to coincide their leave for project go-lives...I'm surprised this developer didn't think of that!

    1. Blofeld's Cat

      @Martin 50

      "I find people in my office manage to coincide their leave for project go-lives...I'm surprised this developer didn't think of that!"

      Project Manager: "I should be getting more recognition for my role in developing this project."

      BDFH*: "I'll see what I can do"

      *Bastard Developer From Hell

      1. Fatman

        Re: ...getting more recognition for my role ...

        Be careful of what you wish for.

        We, at WROK PALCE, had a project managermangler who wanted credit for a project he had quite little to do with. And, he got it.

        It took nearly a year, but the mounting clusterfucks that project spurned finally caught up with him.

        It is never a good thing to get a pink slip[1], as a Christmas present.

        [1] In the form of a employment contract nonrenewal.

  5. OrsonX


    Americans do love their project acronyms.

    1. Ken 16 Silver badge

      Re: RASCAL

      Why not Concept Robotic Aircrew Systems Helicopter?

    2. Platelet

      Re: RASCAL

      Should have called it HK-Aerial

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Nevertheless, the news will no doubt fuel the fantasies of many of California's conspiracy-loving paranoids (of whom there are many), in that there's now a faint possibility that robotic black helicopters really are out there following them

    And naturally they're the easy ones to spot from the air… you can see that alfoil miles away!

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nice helicopter, but about that CB radio...

    Or is that the helicopter muttering autonomously? My GPS speaks better. "Recal-uh-culating."

    Obviously a billion dollars only buys your the stripped down base model.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Keep your eyes on the skies!!

    I for one do not welcome our Silicon Valley watching hover-ready overlords!

  9. easyk

    LADAR vs Lidar

    I'm glad they used the term LADAR instead of Lidar. Lidar sounds so limp.

  10. Anonymous Coward

    All well and good

    It's all well and good, until the thing decides to start pulling more G's than the pilot can take and he passes out, hitting the off switch in the process.

    Word of advice: don't fit this to a Hughes 500 Defender - or at least make sure the AI knows when it's outclassed.

    (the one with the Wolf in Sheep's clothing patch).

    1. SkippyBing

      Re: All well and good

      You're all right, it's rare to find a helicopter that can take more g than an human. The blades would have to be too stiff and heavy to avoid hitting the tail boom under more than a few g.

      Oh and G is the gravitational constant, g is the force of gravity on the Earth's surface.

  11. Robert E A Harvey
    Black Helicopters

    There are no robot helicopters

    Move along please, nothing to see here

  12. WatAWorld

    How can anyone cost justify F-35s on the basis of them being useful for 30 years now?

    If they can do this with a helicopter at such low altitudes in hilly terrain, imagine what they can do with higher altitudes over less hilly terrain.

    If things are this far along, how can anyone justify F-35s on the basis of them being useful for 30 years?

    It seems to me that we're entering an age like the late 1950s and 1960s, where the average useable life of an aircraft is 10 years, and then regardless of how much life is left in the airframe, its obsolescence makes it too dangerous to take into combat.

    1. WatAWorld

      Re: How can anyone cost justify F-35s on the basis of them being useful for 30 years now?

      the average useable life of a *combat* aircraft is 10 years

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: How can anyone cost justify F-35s on the basis of them being useful for 30 years now?

        Or one flight then shot down by Merkin friendly fire whilst coming home is the normal life

      2. /dev/null

        Re: How can anyone cost justify F-35s on the basis of them being useful for 30 years now?

        10 years?

        Would you call a B-52 a combat aircraft? They're all about 50 years old now, and the USAF are planning to keep them in service until at least 2040...

        Even the RAF's Tornado GR4s are around 30 years old now...

        1. Fatman

          Re: How can anyone cost justify F-35s on the basis of them being useful for 30 years now?

          But, you forget that a B-52 is a bomber, while the F-35 is a fighter aircraft.

          They are designed for completely different usage scenarios.

          A fighter, because of its aerobatic requirements, is subjected to far more stress that a bomber, which basically flies straight and level until it reaches its target.

          Do you really think a B-52 is capable of pulling a high-g turn??? I didn't think so.

          On the other hand, a bomber is designed to get to the target, and deliver its payload on top of your enemy, and hopefully survive everything they can throw at you. During WW2, there were countless numbers of B-17's that returned from their runs over Europe, all shot up. It was a testament to that planes' ruggedness that those crews were able to get home. Many came home with one or more engines out. How much luck would a single engine fighter have if its engine got shot to pieces?

  13. Sebastian A

    So by my calculations

    An average brontosaurus was 461 feet long/tall?

    1. mark 63 Silver badge

      Re: So by my calculations

      Goddamit beaten to it!

      I just spent 5 mins working out how to do percentages!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So by my calculations

      > An average brontosaurus was 461 feet long/tall?

      I thought the average brontosaurus was 0 feet tall, what with it not existing and all. Even if it did 461 feet is a bit much; that's 2 jumbo jets wing-tip to wing-tip. Furthermore, 3.3% of a double decker bus could range from 12" to 19"

      So, the quote should be:

      "The on-board systems successfully located a safe landing spot and came down to a hover 60 feet (80% of an apatosaurus with a camarasaurus' skull crudely glued on) above it to within a 12 inches (between 2.0 and 3.3 per cent of a double-decker depending on the model) of accuracy."

  14. 404

    The Problem here is...

    ... that if/when WWIII comes about, the satellites will be the first targets - rendering quite a bit of GPS/Sat hardware useless.

    Now what?

  15. This post has been deleted by its author

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm Air Assault qualified and ill tell you, as will damned near anyone else with an Air Assault badge, I don't trust my life to this thing. And as a Soldier ill also tell you, we rarely shun the stupid idea. So its bound to happen sooner or later that people are being carried on them, the computer freaks, noone's there as a backup, and people die.

    Hell for that matter I barely trust the human pilots we already have, especially after seeing a 22 year old 2nd LT who had just finished flight school at Fort Rucker, crash her Blackhawk (which is the easiest bird in the Army inventory to fly after the Raven and Shadow drones, which we let Enlistedmen in the Military Occupational Specialty 35K operate) six times when she arrived at her parent unit. I was standing on their LZ getting a signature at the time. Been kinda scared of aviation ever since except the UAS guys because they're MI.

    And David A. Hagood mentioned a Hughes Defender. Thats kind of funny because Boeing's already done this with an MH-6 Little Bird, same Airframe as the Defender really, a bit smaller but its basically the same thing. It was the first experimental UAS that had been converted from an existing airframe for their Unmanned Little Bird project. I know it flew faster than 40 Knots though, and Little Birds are nowhere near as easy to fly as a Blackhawk. That was also six years ago.

    By the way, UAS is the same thing as a UAV before anyone asks. UAS is a US Army acronym and UAV is the US Navy and US Air Force's. I know HM Government uses the term UAV as well. At least the British Army types in Tampa and the RAF pilots in Nevada do.

    1. Tank boy
      Thumb Down

      "I'm Air Assault qualified and ill tell you, blah, blah blah"

      Join the Tanks. You and the infantry can dangle from all the ropes you want. Put a panzer on someones lawn after they've been destroyed before they could even hear the report of the rounds flying through their house... Beats the shit out of being a dope on a rope.

      1. sabba


        ...I'm not too sure I'd want to be in a tank. They are hardly invulnerable and there is quite an array of anti-tank technology out there. Basically you're in a big tin can and once targeted I'm not so sure what your survival chances are - even exiting a disabled tank under fire seems pretty fraught. I think I'd rather be attacking from a chopper myself although hopefully I'll never have to do either.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Robot Tanks

          Will make tanks safer for (the right colour) humans

          1. I think so I am?

            Posted Friday 7th December 2012 09:46 GMT Anonymous Coward

            All I can think of now is the South Park Movie and "Operation get behind the darkies"

      2. Chris G

        Pressure cooker

        I'm ex-infantry from the cold war days, we trained in heli-borne assault often with German pilots because the British army in those days didn't have enough choppers, even with the language barrier I would prefer to put my life in the hands of a NATO sausage eater than one of Skynets offspring.

        The choppers were equipped with anti-tank missiles too.

        We could get out of a hovering chopper (6 of us) in a little over twenty seconds, including the LAWs we had to shoot at the large lumbering targets we called pressure cookers as they were an excellent way to quickly cook an enemy tanky.

        One sqaddy with a LAW is a lot harder to find and hit than a 50 ton plus gas guzzling cannon on a wagon.

        But tanks are handy to hide behind!

      3. Ken 16 Silver badge

        Robot Tanks - that is a brilliant idea, especially if they can convert surplus Warsaw Pact machines. Maybe Apple can do the maps for the invasion route?

        1. Tom_

          Meat Eating Robot Tanks

          There's what you really need. That way they won't run out of fuel and turn into Robot Metal Boxes.

        2. Fatman

          RE: Maybe Apple can do the maps for the invasion route?

          In that case, you can expect those tanks to head straight for the Pacific!

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Hmmmm PC + Cake Mixer

      Someone has to lick the blades.

      Satan - because she rules the christian world.

  17. Allan George Dyer
    Black Helicopters

    New Reg unit?

    So what is the life expectancy of a snowflake in a blast furnace?

    And, as a civvie, I'd like clarification of why is 40 knots at low altitude on a battlefield so dangerous? Is it that fleshy pilots hit the hills, or because enemy squaddies complain that their target practice is too easy?

    1. alisonken1

      Re: New Reg unit?

      Initially, all test flights with new systems are under controlled conditions - which means not as fast as the thing is capable of, but fast enough to check the specs on what's being tested. Once the (hopefully) minor bugs are worked out under initial test conditions, then the bar is raised and things get tested closer to technical specs.

      And yes, experienced heli pilots have done a Luke Skywalker flight through canyons as well, so the relatively slow speeds during initial testing are to ensure that the bugs in the system are found before the pilots are needed.

      1. Fatman

        Re: ...ensure that the bugs in the system are found...

        Of course, you really would not want WindowsWindblowZE For Helicopters to BSOD in combat, now would you????

        I am getting this mental image of a robo-chopper being targeted by some nasties, and unable to take evasive action because the flight control system BSODed.


        Too Late!!!!!!!!

        (I'm torn, should I use a Tux icon, or the flame icon, decisions, decisions! Shit, I'll settle for the troll. It is appropriate anyway!)

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They needed this

    for the Osama takedown raid! ;-)

  19. david wilson

    Slow flight

    If this was a first demo flight, one might expect that the speed/altitude were chosen to give human pilots a decent chance to see things going pear-shaped, and take over before anything nasty happened, rather than as any meaningful indication of what the system was expected to be capable of in the end.

  20. Anonymous Coward

    My Money Is On Meatsacks And Mr Bölkow

    I'll leave it as homework for you to figure why 100 billion neurons coupled with 10000 connections each are more powerful than anything else.

    And yeah, tanks are big, slow tommy cookers. Even when they contain something else than Britons.

  21. Anonymous Coward

    More Bo 105 Porn

  22. JDC

    rotors failing?

    "The helicopter adds turbulence, height control, and if its rotors fail, who or what is piloting it would have to deal with the resulting downward acceleration of 9.8m/sec2."

    If the rotors fail and you start heading downward at that speed there's F.A. a pilot could do about it, human or otherwise. Unless of course the author is thinking of engine failure and autorotation, which presumably should be relatively easy to include in the autopilot.

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