Can helicopters be automated?

Answered by Douglas Hiatt

Can helicopters be automated?

Helicopters can be automated to a certain extent. For many years, helicopter manufacturers have been incorporating automation features into their aircraft to assist pilots in reducing their manual flying workload. These automation systems primarily focus on stability augmentation and attitude retention, which help in maintaining the helicopter’s stability and control.

Stability augmentation systems use various sensors and computer algorithms to continuously monitor the helicopter’s flight parameters, such as pitch, roll, and yaw. These systems can automatically make small adjustments to the helicopter’s controls, such as cyclic and collective, to maintain stability and prevent it from deviating from its intended flight path. This helps in reducing the pilot’s workload, especially in challenging weather conditions or during demanding maneuvers.

Attitude retention systems, on the other hand, are designed to automatically maintain the helicopter’s desired attitude or orientation. This is particularly useful in situations where the pilot needs to focus on other tasks, such as navigation or communication. By relieving the pilot from constantly adjusting the controls to maintain the desired attitude, these systems enhance safety and reduce pilot fatigue.

One example of helicopter automation is the autopilot system. Autopilots can take over the control of the helicopter and perform specific flight tasks, such as maintaining altitude, heading, or speed. They can also perform more advanced functions, such as following a pre-programmed flight plan or executing complex flight maneuvers.

In my experience as a helicopter pilot, I have used automation systems extensively during my flights. These systems have proven to be invaluable, especially during long flights where maintaining precise control for extended periods can be physically and mentally demanding. The automation features have allowed me to focus on other important tasks, such as monitoring weather conditions, communicating with air traffic control, or conducting mission-related activities.

However, it is important to note that while automation systems can greatly assist pilots, they do not eliminate the need for human intervention. Pilots still play a critical role in monitoring the automation systems, making strategic decisions, and taking control of the helicopter in case of system failures or unexpected events.

It is also worth mentioning that the level of automation in helicopters varies depending on the type and purpose of the aircraft. Commercial transport helicopters, such as those used for offshore operations or emergency medical services, may have more advanced automation capabilities compared to smaller, single-engine helicopters used for recreational purposes.

Helicopters can be automated to reduce manual flying workload through stability augmentation and attitude retention systems. Automation features such as autopilots have proven to be beneficial in enhancing safety, reducing pilot workload, and allowing pilots to focus on other critical tasks. However, human intervention and monitoring remain essential to ensure the safe operation of the aircraft.