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Sikorsky Venture Researches Unmanned Helicopters

By Stephen Singer, Associated Press

Houston Chronicle
February 2, 2010

 

Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. announced a billion-dollar venture Monday that it hopes will respond to military demand for technology to fight two wars, including Black Hawk helicopters that can see and fly on their own.

 

The Stratford, Conn.-based helicopter maker and military contractor said Sikorsky Innovations is intended to speed the transformation of the mechanical helicopter into a computerized aircraft.

 

The Black Hawk is a military workhorse, used in conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Grenada and Panama. It's also part of military packages sold to other nations and has been used in civilian missions such as rescuing snowbound mountain climbers.

 

“Imagine a vehicle that can double the productivity of the Black Hawk in Iraq and Afghanistan by flying with, at times, a single pilot instead of two, decreasing the workload, decreasing the risk, and at times when the mission is really dull and really dangerous, go it all the way to fully unmanned,” Chris Van Buiten, director of Sikorsky Innovations, told an audience of 100 government, university and business representatives Monday.

 

Unmanned warplanes are not new but are drawing interest from commanders trying to reduce casualties while not relenting in combat.

 

“The new thing here is to apply technologies in small airplanes and rotorcraft to the 20,000-pound Black Hawk,” Van Buiten said in an interview. “It ups the stakes.”

 

Sikorsky intends to have a demonstrator model of an unmanned Black Hawk ready this year and introduce it by 2015.

 

An unmanned version could add about $2 million to the current $15 million price tag but would save money with fewer or no crew members, he said.

 

Steven Zaloga, a senior analyst at Teal Group Corp. in Fairfax, Va., said unmanned aerial vehicles represent “one of the few dynamic markets” in the aerospace industry, which was hit hard by the recession.

 

The Teal Group estimates the global market for unmanned aerial vehicle hardware will rise from $2.9 billion this year to $5.5 billion in 2019, Zaloga said.

 

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