In the realm of rotorcraft flight, one of the most daunting challenges is the prospect of an unpowered autorotation emergency landing. Helicopters, with their complex controls involving throttle, collective control, cyclic control, and pedals for tail rotor pitch, demand the utmost skill from pilots. However, recent advancements in autonomous systems are revolutionizing helicopter safety, particularly in emergency situations.
Enter Skyryse, a California-based company founded in 2016, dedicated to developing autonomous and fly-by-wire retrofit systems for various aircraft. With the overarching goal of reducing and eventually eliminating general aviation fatalities, Skyryse has made significant strides in simplifying helicopter controls. Their system, demonstrated in 2019 using a Robinson R-44 upgraded with Flight Stack technology, is now poised to introduce groundbreaking safety features in the form of fully automated autorotation for emergency landings.
Autorotation, a last-resort maneuver for skilled pilots facing engine failure, involves converting the helicopter’s altitude, airspeed, and rotor speed into a controlled descent. Skyryse’s system recognizes engine failure and initiates autorotation swiftly, potentially faster than a human pilot. This rapid response aims to maintain a higher main rotor RPM, providing pilots with more stored energy to navigate the descent.
The pivotal moment comes when the helicopter establishes a glide, at which point the pilot selects a landing spot and guides the aircraft toward it. Then, with the push of a button, Skyryse’s system takes control, executing the flare and final landing. This groundbreaking technology, demonstrated with a Robinson R66 in July by test pilots Jason Trask and Eliot Seguin, showcases a remarkable advancement in helicopter safety.
The courage displayed by these test pilots in allowing an automatic autorotation for the first time is commendable. The system’s potential to eliminate the guesswork and panic associated with autorotation emergencies could make it a game-changer in aviation safety. As helicopters move toward increasingly autonomous capabilities, the contributions of companies like Skyryse pave the way for a safer future in rotorcraft flight.