Howard Hughes Award Presented to ONR, Aurora Flight Sciences for Autonomous Flight Work

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ARLINGTON, Va., June 1, 2018 — The American Helicopter Society’s Howard Hughes Award was presented to the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR) and Aurora Flight Sciences for their joint work on the Autonomous Aerial Cargo/Utility System (AACUS). 

A UH-1 Huey equipped with an Office of Naval Research (ONR)-sponsored Autonomous Aerial Cargo Utility System (AACUS) autonomy kit makes an approach for landing during final testing at Marine Corps Base Quantico. Courtesy of U.S. Navy / John F. Williams.
A UH-1 Huey helicopter equipped with an ONR-sponsored Autonomous Aerial Cargo/Utility System (AACUS) autonomy kit makes an approach for landing during final testing at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia. Courtesy of U.S. Navy/John F. Williams.

AACUS allows any rotary-wing aircraft to fly completely autonomously, enabling mission success even in austere environments.

"The team is honored to be recognized for our work," said Knox Millsaps, head of ONR's naval air warfare and weapons department. "But we'll know if our work has been a real success if it can keep even one more war fighter safe and out of harm's way during a resupply mission — that's our true measure of success."

AACUS is a package of sensors and software that can be integrated into rotary-wing aircraft to provide safe, reliable, and rapid delivery of cargo to Marines in the field using autonomous capabilities. These capabilities include flight, route planning, obstacle avoidance, landing selection — even on unprepared fields — and takeoffs.

Designed for simple use, AACUS employs an intuitive hand-held tablet that allows a Marine in the field to call up needed supplies quickly and easily. That capability was on display in December when AACUS successfully completed its final demonstration with a UH-1 Huey helicopter at the Urban Training Center at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia. A highlight of the demonstration included a Marine requesting an autonomous resupply after only 15 minutes of training.

"The AACUS technology provides a revolutionary way to resupply our forces in the field," Millsaps said. "It could simplify the logistics train for supplying critical war-fighting cargo to forward-deployed troops and do this in a more economical manner without placing human pilots at risk in high-threat environments."

The Howard Hughes Award honors outstanding improvement in fundamental vertical flight technology brought to fruition during the preceding 18 months. The award is intended to foster accomplishments in the basic science and technology disciplines of the vertical flight community, such as aerodynamics, dynamics, structures, propulsion, human factors, electronics, simulation, testing, and systems integration. The award was established in 1977 by Hughes Helicopters to honor the memory of Howard Hughes and his pioneering accomplishments in aviation.

Published: June 2018
BusinessAmerican Helicopter SocietyHoward Hughes AwardawardsOffice of Naval ResearchAurora Flight SciencesAutonoous Aerial Cargo Utility SystemAACUSAutonomous FlyingNavyAmericas

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