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If experiments being conducted by the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) and the Maneuver Center of Excellence are successful, Soldiers and small units could be resupplied or supported autonomously by unmanned helicopters like its current fixed-wing counterparts.
Last week GTRI conducted test flights of the 175-pound helicopter with a 10-foot rotor diameter and onboard navigation and guidance control systems at Fort Benning's Maneuver Battle Lab. The tests were sponsored by the Army's Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama.
"It's going to allow us to do route reconnaissance and is another way to engage targets," said Staff Sgt. Douglas Briggs of the MCoE MBL.
The unmanned helicopter provides an added capability for Soldiers and complements the existing fleet of unmanned aerial systems, Briggs said.
As testing continues, one of the things that will be explored is increasing the range of the new system and refining its capabilities to better serve Soldiers on the battlefield, he said.
"They're the experts as far as bringing us technology," Briggs said of the team from GTRI. "We just give them the mission sets we're looking for. They're more advanced as far as the ability to improve the technology we look for."
Eric Johnson, associate professor of aerospace and engineering at Georgia Tech and director of the UAV Research Facility there, said the unmanned helicopter is the next evolution in the use of unmanned aerial vehicles.
"Our vision for our lab is very safe operation, high reliability operation, high performance of helicopters in urban areas and potentially near people, so that implies a high degree of safety," he said.
Eventually the goal is to be able to conduct sling-load operations in urban areas and other restrictive environments that take advantage of the prototype's ability to take off vertically and hover in one place for longer than the current UAV systems, he said, adding that the prototype has more than $50,000 of additional equipment including a sophisticated computer system, laser and multiple cameras.
In August, the Maneuver Battle Lab and GTRI will conduct a test of a new unmanned helicopter about 10 times the size of the one demonstrated last week.