U.S. military's next-gen helicopters could all be drones

The MQ-8 Fire Scout might be the US military’s marquee pilotless helicopter, but it’s not the only one. A pair of R/C Kaman K-Max K-1200 choppers have proven their value resupplying forward operating bases in Afghanistan and, now, the DoD is developing a system to turn any helicopter into a remotely operated whirley bird. Dubbed the Autonomous Aerial Cargo/Utility System, this combined hardware and software suite leverages a variety of visual sensors to supplement the onboard optical camera. 

The chief of the Naval Research Office, Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, said its experimental drone helicopter program passed a critical milestone. Speaking at the Sea-Air-Space Exposition just outside of Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Klunder described a flight test that took place last month on the grounds of the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Va. Marines armed only with a tablet PC and 15 minutes of training were able to steer and land large helicopters, called the Autonomous Aerial Cargo/Utility System (ACCUS), in driving snow. “I stood right next to the 20-year-old lance corporal. I touched the button. It is literally a one-touch app,” Klunder told Defense One. “Frankly, you don’t even need the app.” The app allows the user on the receiving end to change the flight path or the behavior of the craft on the basis of new conditions.  

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