What makes a Great Autopilot?

What makes a Great Autopilot?

F-105B AvionicsSometimes a pilot just needs to kick back and relax, maybe even take a quick nap … and that’s what autopilots are for.  Sort of.  These technical marvels allow the operators of planes, boats, and fancy cars to automated some of their regular chores, so they can attend to other things while moving along with out worrying about stuff like parallel parking or navigation. They’re useful and good to have – but what makes a really great one?  We looking into that very question to enable the pilots and mission specialists of Ice City to complete their work with panache!

ICITY’s BA2 aircraft prototype employs a basic autopilot inspired by the multi-axial systems used in many types of helicopters (a good fit for controlling the aircraft during construction work while city building).  These systems allow helicopters to “stabilize” pitch, roll, and yaw while in-flight, regulate hover and altitude, and generally smooth things out while conducting tricky manoeuvres such as loading a long line or slinging cargo.  It’s a good system for the BA2 and works well, and the plan is to improve upon it for the BA2 V2 upgrade now under development (whoops … we’ve let the cat out of the bag … yup, we’re working on a BA2 V2 package which will upgrade the flight management system, mission control panels, and autopilot system).

The BA2 V2 autopilot will move toward greatness by allowing pilots to customize the type of systems automated and the sensitivity of the control inputs, while maintaining a simple and clear user-interface.  Awesome.  But we also want it to be Great, so here’s our question to you … what makes a great autopilot?  Please leave your suggestions or feedback below!

CH-54 // S-64

CH-54 // S-64

CH-54The aircraft in ICITY are inspired by a number of real world and conceptual predecessors – everything from modern drones and LTAV’s, to the experimental helicopters and planes of the 1930’s.  A powerful influence, in particular, is the Sikorsky Sky Crane, which fist took the skies in the early 1960’s, variants of which are still flying today.

As helicopters became more reliable and powerful during the 1950’s, manufacturers began development of “sky cranes”, powerful aircraft which could be used to move heavy equipment and awkward cargo, and also function as mobile cranes at dangerous construction sites.  With experience gained from the production of the smaller S-60 prototype, Sikorsky began production of the CH-54 Tarhe (civilian variant S-64) in 1964 for use by the US Army.

S-64The Ch-54 employed a “pod-and-boom” design that allowed it to straddle modular or asymmetrical cargo. The crew operated the aircraft from a bubble-like cabin mounted at the nose, where a co-pilot could also use an aft-facing control station to complete a variety of operations. Interchangeable cargo containers could be attached directly to the fuselage, although the sky crane was more often used to sling oversized cargo beneath its central boom. A powerful hoist mechanism could winch certain types of cargo up against the fuselage’s boom, to increase stability and reduce drag during forward flight, and which allowed the helicopter to remain airborne during loading and unloading.


Sikorsky CH-54 Tarhe // S-64

Crew:   3
Payload:   20,000 lb  (9,000 kg)
Length:   88 ft  (27 m)
Height:   25 ft  (8 m)
Main Rotor diameter:   72 ft  (22 m)
Tail Rotor diameter:   16 ft  (5 m)

Powerplant:   (2x) Pratt & Whitney T73-P-700 (for the A model)
Maximum speed:   130 kn (150 mph, 240 km/h)
Cruise speed:   100 kn  (105 mph, 170 km/h)
Range:   200 NM  (230 mi, 370 km)
Service ceiling:   18,300 ft  (5,600 m)

Data:  Combat Air Museum