Warplanes: UH-60 UAV

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February 4, 2010: The manufacturer of the American UH-60 helicopter (Sikorsky) is investing up to a billion dollars to create a remotely piloted UH-60. This requires developing better sensors and controls for the remote operator, and providing improved flight control software.

Sikorsky is playing catch-up here. Competitor Northrop Grumman has already developed and sold the remotely operated RQ-8 helicopter UAV to the U.S. Navy. The RQ-8 is based on a two seat civilian helicopter, the Model 333 (made by Sikorsky subsidiary Schweizer). The RQ-8 has a maximum takeoff weight of 1.5 tons. With its rotors folded (for storage on ships), the RQ-8 is 23 feet long and 9.4 feet high. Max payload is 600 pounds. The flight control software enables the RQ-8 to land and take off automatically. Each RQ-8 UAV costs about $8 million (including a share of the ground control equipment and some spares.) Another competitor, Boeing, is developing the A160T (based on the Robinson R22 manned helicopter), and weighs three tons.

Both of these existing robotic helicopters are based on small helicopters. The UH-60 weighs ten tons. But a UH-60 UAVt would be able to carry more (or stay aloft longer) and perform riskier missions. But operating such a larger helicopter remotely requires some breakthroughs in UAV technology. This is what the Sikorsky billion dollar development budget is for.

 


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