Boeing has flown its newly designed A/MH-6X light-turbine helicopter for the first time, marking a significant milestone in the continuing development of the manned/unmanned military aircraft.
According to Boeing, the aircraft combines the proven performance of the A/MH-6M Mission Enhanced Little Bird (MELB) with the unmanned aerial vehicle technologies of the Unmanned Little Bird (ULB) Demonstrator, a modified MD 530F civil helicopter that has been in development since 2004.
‘The A/MH-6X is the first true hybrid manned/unmanned aircraft, adding another mission capability to the combat-proven, multi-mission MELB helicopter,’ said Dino Cerchie, Boeing Advanced Rotorcraft Systems Unmanned Little Bird program manager. ‘The A/MH-6X Little Bird offers exciting new possibilities for an already outstanding platform.’
The A/MH-6X lifted off on September 20 at the Boeing Rotorcraft Systems facility in Mesa, Arizona, and flew as a piloted aircraft for approximately 14 minutes before landing.
Future testing will expand the manned and unmanned envelopes. Aircraft performance will be similar to the ULB Demonstrator with an additional 1,000 pounds of payload that can be used for increased range, endurance or mission hardware. Total payload for the ULB Demonstrator is greater than 2,400 pounds.
Boeing designed and developed the derivative helicopter for military and civilian applications, including homeland defence. The helicopter’s external appearance and mechanical systems are similar to the operational A/MH-6M helicopter flown by the US Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.
Boeing made the most significant modifications to the cockpit avionics and electrical systems. The A/MH-6X aircraft has a prototype “glass” cockpit that provides system redundancy and additional technologies in digital maps and data fusion. It also has many network-centric features like Ku-band communication, digital radios, Internet Protocol-addressable aircraft systems and on-board, high bandwidth data processing and storage.
Boeing is preparing the manned/unmanned aircraft variant for domestic and international markets.