A key question since Lockheed Martin
said it is buying Sikorsky Aircraft
is whether the aerospace and defense giant has any interest in selling civil helicopters. The deal was announced July 20, with a key civil market (offshore oil and gas support) slumping and the general economy lagging, which hurt sales of Sikorsky’s civil S-92 and S-76. Those "headwinds," as the financial crowd say, prevail, but Lockheed Martin
may be eyeing more favorable winds in the form of Sikorsky’s ongoing investment in autonomous systems research. For two years, its Matrix Technology program has used an S-76 rigged with fly-by-wire controls to study systems for automatically taking off, flying a pattern and returning to an airport. The program now is working on advanced capabilities like autonomic selection and use of landing sites and optionally piloted flight. In addition to coinciding with renewed U.S. Army interest in aids to landing in degraded visual environments, Sikorsky’s work comes as curiosity grows in the civil arena about instrumented flight as a means of improving the civil helicopter industry’s chronic accident rate.