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Unmanned Little Bird: Flexible autonomy from land and sea

A view from inside the Unmanned Little Bird's cockpit

Boeing

A view from inside the Unmanned Little Bird's cockpit as it approaches a ship at sea off the coast of Florida.

The Unmanned Little Bird H-6U is neither your average rotorcraft nor your average unmanned airborne system (UAS). Unlike a traditional helicopter, it can fly without a pilot in the cockpit. And, contrary to its name, Unmanned Little Bird can be flown either fully or partially manned, making it an ideal platform to train users and flight-test UAS technologies.

But Unmanned Little Bird’s versatility doesn’t end there. Having already performed unmanned land-based missions, including cargo and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, the H-6U took to the sea in 2012. During demonstrations off the coasts of the United States and France, Unmanned Little Bird conducted multiple autonomous takeoffs and landings from moving ships.

“It is one thing to land a UAV on a helipad compensating for winds, but it’s a whole other level when you also have translational and rotational motion of the ship deck to address,” said Dino Cerchie, Boeing Unmanned Little Bird program manager.

Following the sea demonstrations, Boeing has continued to prove the flexibility of Unmanned Little Bird. In December, the aircraft flew an autonomous land-based flight for the Republic of Korea Army to show how unmanned aircraft technology can be integrated onto that force’s MD 500 helicopters.

“The need for unmanned vertical-takeoff-and-landing capabilities is growing quickly across the globe, and the requirements vary widely,” said Eric Mathewson, director of Business Development for Unmanned Airborne Systems. “Unmanned Little Bird is performing flawlessly, showing it can provide affordable, reliable capabilities to meet warfighters’ many mission needs.”