Airbus Helicopters has successfully conducted initial flight tests of an innovative autonomous rotorcraft flight control system, capable of being operated entirely through a tablet computer.
This development mirrors Airbus’s previous demonstration of controlling the A350 aircraft from taxiing to takeoff and landing, extending the same technological application to helicopter control.
The Vertex project, a three-year initiative supported by Airbus‘ UpNext innovation arm and co-funded by France’s Civil Aviation Authority, has showcased fully autonomous helicopter flight, covering takeoff, cruise, approach, and landing phases.
Operating helicopters, which rely on complex head rotors, poses unique challenges compared to fixed-wing aircraft. Even minor pilot inputs can lead to significant errors and potential crashes.
The primary focus of these efforts is to enhance safety in light helicopter operations and pave the way for autonomous electric advanced air mobility systems.
Airbus Helicopters FlightLab H130
The flight tests were conducted using the Airbus Helicopters FlightLab H130 technology demonstrator aircraft. Airbus utilizes its labs to actively test and develop supporting technologies for the aviation industry’s future.
The autonomous system integrates a four-axis autopilot to provide a level of flight envelope protection, with the autopilot also managing the engines.
During the testing phase, the pilot monitored the system, which demonstrated the ability to detect unforeseen obstacles and automatically adjust the flight path for safety.
The pilot retained the option to override controls through the tablet interface when necessary and resume the mission. This comprehensive flight testing occurred from October 27th to November 22nd at the Airbus Helicopters facility in Marignane, France.