The U.S. Army is creating the helicopters of the future

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The Pentagon and the U.S. army are showing off some fancy new equipment in the form of a next-generation helicopter.

These gadgets-in-the-sky will include integrated sensors, faster speeds, automatic “pilotless” flights, better countermeasures and lower overall costs.

The military is looking at a 2018 timeframe, according to Dave Weller, the science and technology program manager for the Aviation Program Executive Office. The Army is looking toward a demo craft in 2013 and test flights taking off in 2017.

Here are some specifics the military is aiming for with these new air vehicles:

  • Sensors that are integrated into the airframe
  • High-speed targeting capabilities
  • Optionally automated/autonomous flight
  • A human machine interface for on-board navigation, sensing and threat detection
  • Teaming of manned and unmanned aircraft, including remote control from inside the manned craft
  • Automatic avoidance of obstacles using sensors
  • Hovering and pivoting with tilt-rotor aircraft technology
  • Diagnostic sensors to streamline repairs

Except for the high-speed targeting functions, it sounds a lot like a soccer mom’s Audi: super intelligent, loaded with sensors, and practically (or in some cases, actually) able to drive itself.

“Overall, what we are trying to do is look at a range of solutions such as radar, electro-optical equipment, lasers, sensors, software, avionics and communications equipment and see what the right architecture is and how we would integrate all these things together,” said Systems Integration Division chief Ray Wall Ray Wall in a statement.

Several military personnel stated the Army has approached the future ‘copters with capabilities in mind rather than solutions to specific problems; as a couple representatives noted, the Army is, at this point, looking to the aviation and defense industries for solutions to the problems it is experiencing.