Pilot’s Associate Program: Back to the Future?

Following successful demonstration of this technology, one might well ask where it is today. First, we should record the fact that the team did enjoy the unqualified support of DARPA and the Air Force for 6 years, and $42 million – a long time for DARPA funding to last. To some extent, the Lockheed PA team was a victim of its own early success. Demo 2 in the middle of Phase 1 was such an eye-popping success that the original development strategy was accelerated. The original plan was to demonstrate capability on Phase 1, grow to a full operational knowledge base in Phase 2, and achieve real-time performance on a stable knowledge base in Phase 3. With the success of Phase 1, it was decided to combine the original Phases 2 and 3, simultaneously enhancing the knowledge bases and recoding for real-time operation. There were significant issues associated with achieving real-time, notably getting C++ to behave properly across multiple processors with shared memory. Consequently, at the time when we needed aggressive marketing to promote the next phase of development, it appeared that we were not going to achieve the revised goals of Phase 2. The marketing effort faded, and in spite of the eventual success of Demo 4, there was no follow-on activity in place.

The situation was not helped by the state of the F-22 program at that time. While DARPA and the Air Force were looking to the F-22 as the application vehicle for this technology, neither the contractor team (Lockheed Martin and Boeing) nor the Air Force Program office could be convinced of the applicability of the technology. At that period of time, there were no aircraft flying, and the program was more concerned with the airframe and its cost than with the potential that more technology in the cockpit might help the pilot to be more effective.

So the the applicability of this concept was demonstrated in a realistic simulation environment, but it was left to the PA contractors to take the technology to the marketplace. The following is a partial list of the subsequent applications:

  • The Rotorcraft Pilot’s Associate is the Army’s application of PA technology. The Lockheed team combined with Sikorsky helicopters to compete against a team that has subsequently by way of acquisitions become Boeing helicopters. The Boeing team, using the technology from the McDonnell Douglas Pilot’s Associate program, was awarded the contract, and is close to flight test of the system. Some of the Lockheed team subcontractors were involved in the PVI implementation, attempting to integrate the PGG approach with the Task Network used by Boeing. I’m not sure that integration ever succeeded very well.
  • It seemed that Air Traffic Management (ATM) offered a significant opportunity for PA technology to improve the safety and efficiency of airline operations, and the integration of military air traffic into the civilian networks. NASA sponsored a significant amount of studies. The results were enough to show that PA technology could enable free flight throughout the continental and trans-oceanic air space, with enormous savings in operational costs for the airlines and the Air Traffic Control infrastructure, while also offering an extra level of safety. However, the handoff to the FAA was never achieved, some opportunities to demonstrate capability came and went, and the effort has languished.


last updated 10/6/2002 by David Smith