The ALIAS system, developed by DARPA, could cut down on crew requirements in military and civilian small aircraft by taking control with a robotic arm. Although it's still a ways off production, the system has been successfully demonstrated on a Cessna Caravan aircraft.
As aircraft have become more advanced, they've also become more difficult to understand. Pilots and crew need to undergo intensive training before being let loose in the latest aircraft, and even then they can be overwhelmed by the complexity of flight systems in an emergency.
According to DARPA, the Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS) could provide a solution. Rather than retrofitting old airplane fleets with complex, expensive automated flight systems, ALIAS has been designed as an adaptable drop-in solution to lighten the load on crews. Although it's all-new, the system has its roots in DARPA's previous work in automated systems and unmanned autonomous vehicles.
When it's completely up and running, ALIAS should be able to handle a complex military mission from takeoff to landing. It should also be able to deal with emergency situations in the air, essentially reducing the human pilot to a mission supervisor by letting the computer deal with minute-to-minute flying.
Having successfully tested the system on a Diamond DA-42 earlier this year, it was recently installed in a Cessna Caravan in an attempt to prove its versatility. It pulled off a set of basic in-flight maneuvers, with a human pilot sitting alongside. The team at Aurora is now working to install it into a Bell UH-1 helicopter.
"Demonstrating our automation system on the UH-1 and the Caravan will prove the viability of our system for both military and commercial applications," says John Wissler, Vice President of Research & Development at Aurora, which has been working on the project. "ALIAS enables the pilot to turn over core flight functions and direct their attention to non-flight related issues such as adverse weather, potential threats or even updating logistical plans."
Watch ALIAS flying the Cessna in the video below.