The US Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR) has completed a successful final helicopter flight demonstration with autonomous capability.

The demonstration is part of the autonomous aerial cargo / utility system (AACUS) programme, which is a collaboration between ONR and US-based technology company Aurora Flight Sciences.

AACUS is intended to allow the US Marine Corps (USMC) to use latest and advanced ONR-sponsored technology for the rapid resupply of forces on the front lines.

"AACUS is an autonomy kit that can be placed on any rotary-wing platform and provide it with an autonomous capability."

ONR executive director Dr Walter Jones said: “This is more than just an unmanned helicopter.

“AACUS is an autonomy kit that can be placed on any rotary-wing platform and provide it with an autonomous capability.”

AACUS features a sensor and software package that can be installed on-board any manned or unmanned rotary-wing aircraft.

The technology will enable the aircraft to detect and avoid obstacles such as telephone wires, other vehicles or large ground objects in adverse weather conditions, as well as allow remote-controlled, unmanned flight.

Jones added: “With AACUS, an unmanned helicopter takes the supplies from the base, picks out the optimal route and best landing site closest to the warfighters, lands, and returns to base once the resupply is complete, all with the single touch of a handheld tablet.”

The new capability will be a suitable alternative for deployment to perform missions such as risky convoys or manned aircraft in all weather conditions.

AACUS has been designed for simple and easy use and will enable operators with minimal training to call up the supplies required and order the flights using only a handheld tablet.

ONR officials said that the system represents a ‘leap-ahead’ technology for the USMC and the US Navy.

AACUS will take unmanned flights beyond the existing standard, which currently requires an operator to select a landing site and use a remote to manually control an autonomous aircraft.