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National technology day: Autonomous Flight

A new technology, Autonomous Aerial Cargo Utility System, aimed at helping Marines better maneuver helicopters, was recently tested at Marine Corp Base Quantico in Virginia.

A utility helicopter lands in the middle of the Urban Training Center, Landing Zone Egret, aboard the west side of Marine Corps Base Quantico using the Autonomous Arial Cargo Utility System. Marine Corps photos by Jeremy Beale

Funded through the Office of Naval Research (ONR) Innovative Naval Prototype program in 2012, the technology is expected to push the boundaries of the way forward deployed warfighters are resupplied and evacuated, further reducing human error and ultimately workload and training requirements.

“AACUS gives revolutionary capability to our fleet and force,” said Dennis Baker, AACUS program officer. “It can be used as a pilot aid in degraded visual environments, or allow fully autonomous flights in contested environments, keeping our pilots out of harm’s way.”

The system will allow helicopters to operate with similar maneuverability as a manned aircraft, aiding Marines from “Point-A” to “Point-B,” while navigating through degraded visual environments, consisting of inclement weather, harsh terrains and hostile territories.
Everything will be operated from a tablet device manned by the designated operator, in which information consisting of atmospheric weather conditions and location and destination are submitted before the helicopter leaves the ground.

Depicted in the left-hand corner the pilot can be seen removed from the flight controls, guarding the cyclic. Within the cockpit, the Autonomous Aerial Cargo Utility System (AACUS) tablet can be seen above the controls. AACUS in the surrounding imagery can be seen analyzing and mapping the flight detecting any direct obstacles that may impede the helicopter’s mission.

MCBQ has provided effective testing facilities for many new technologies aiding the warfighter since 1917, when the barracks trained Marines for World War I.

The testing of the AACUS was successfully utilized at MCBQ, because the west side of base offers approximately 54,000 acres of ranges and training areas. ONR utilized one of 71 landing zones located aboard base, Landing Zone Egret, which is made to resemble an urban area with loose dirt and gravel terrain.

With the completion of testing aboard base, AACUS will now travel to 29 Palms, California in spring 2018 to take part in an Integrated Training Exercise at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in which thousands of Marines will get a glimpse of what the capabilities might look like in the future.

According to Lt. Col. Daniel Schmitt, field testing branch head of Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, systems like AACUS fit exactly in line with experimental designs for Future Force 2025.

“We understand that warfare is inherently moral, so man making the decision is always the most important thing,” Schmitt said. “This technology will allow us to distribute forces further, spreading smaller units over greater distances with the offense that bigger units have at their fingertips, while also speeding the tempo on the battlefield because logistics are federated through unmanned systems.”

As AACUS continues its experimental process, the training grounds of Quantico have become a quintessential part in helping technology grow while developing techniques to win the wars of tomorrow.

Source: Armed with Science, written by Frances Seybold, Marine Corps Base Quantico

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