USAF seeks autonomous aerial rescue vehicle for combat missions

The United States Air Force has published a call for a large autonomous aerial vehicle that will be able to rescue and transport up to four people in remote combat zones. Details about the plan were recently published on the government's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) website, where the USAF Research Laboratory specifies that the vehicle shouldn't have an 'onboard traditional pilot.'

The solicitation published by the USAF on SBIR specifies the need for a 'Personnel Recovery / Transport Vehicle' that will be able to autonomously support combat search and rescue missions by transporting between two and four people over large distances. The USAF wants an aerial vehicle 'with no onboard traditional pilot,' also requiring that it be able to travel at speeds of at least 100 knots over a radius of at least 100 miles.

The USAF also requires the autonomous aerial vehicle — a helicopter, perhaps — to be a low-cost platform with the ability to take off and land at 'unprepared locations' around 50ft x 50ft in size, with a maximum take off and landing size of 150ft. The vehicle would also potentially be used for special field operations and personnel recovery, according to the military.

A system like this would enable remote personnel to be transported from a range of otherwise isolated environments, one of the key benefits being near immediate availability. As well, an autonomous aerial vehicle would eliminate the need to have personnel onboard, reducing the number of lives put at risk during combat operations.

In describing precisely what it wants, the Department of Defense states:

The personnel recovery / transport vehicle envisioned is highly autonomous and flown either remotely through secure datalink similar to unmanned aircraft systems/remotely piloted aircraft in use by Air Force and Department of Defense (DoD), or through minimal control inputs by the person onboard and not requiring significant training. The transport can carry a minimum of two personnel with one person potentially in a litter and needs to be accessible by the other person while in flight.

The project will take place in three phases, with the first phase being the acceptance of proposals from companies that want to develop the platform. Phase two will require development and demonstration, and phrase three will require the contracted entity to 'pursue commercialization.'