Sikorsky S64 , now Erickson Air Crane , are always in high demand for firefighting
Best firefighting is done at night ... no wind ... glowing fires easy to spot .
But one big problem is that nighttime water bombing is “ a very dangerous thing to do on a forest fire,” Usually, firefighting pilots have to fly with night vision goggles, which often degrades depth perception, and aircrews also need additional help from a dedicated guide helicopter. While these night missions are technically possible, Erickson doesn’t want to take the risk—that’s where the Matrix comes in.
Developed by Sikorsky, Matrix is an autonomous technology designed to take control of helicopters—no pilots required. While Matrix’s development began more than a decade ago, it wasn’t until 2013 that a Sikorsky S-76 commercial helicopter flew with an early version of the system. During the test flight, the helicopter flew at full speed, avoided obstacles, and even selected landing zones without pilot input.
Fast-forward to May 2019, Sikorsky adapted a more advanced version of Matrix to a UH-60A Black Hawk, the Army’s workhorse tactical helicopter. Earlier this year, Sikorsky and Erickson agreed to bake the tech into a new version of the Air Crane—the S-64F+.
But the tech isn’t quite ready for service as Erickson and Sikorsky won’t demonstrate the S-64F+ with Matrix until 2021. This first demo flight will likely see the helicopter autonomously fly a pre-programmed mission, including take off, transit to a water pick up, proceed to a target, fire bomb it, and then return to base.
Observer pilots onboard will monitor the aircraft/mission via a tablet with custom-designed software and user interface. If the test is a success, Baxter says subsequent test flights will fly without pilots while controllers oversee them with a Matrix ground control station, redundant satellite communication, and line-of-sight data links.
For anyone who likes to read S-64 pilot stories Keith Gill has plenty
He has flown many other helicopters around the world as well ... lots of firefighting
He is also a good writer. Heligypsy | Helicopter Pilot, will travel