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Optionally Piloted Helicopters

Optionally Piloted Helicopters

Executive Summary

The rise of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) is shaking the aviation industry, including helicopters. Recent research programs in North America and Europe have been looking at integrating unmanned aerial technology with existing helicopter capabilities, hence developing a manned/unmanned capable platform, also called an Optionally Piloted Helicopter (OPH).

Presently restricted to a test-bed status, why should the helicopter industry consider investing in optionally piloted aircraft? OPH first trials, including operational deployments of certain platforms, have successfully demonstrated extended mission capability and reduced operating costs when flown in segregated airspaces, offering increased flexibility with a safety pilot on-board in non-segregated zones.

Such performance, combined with better safety record prospects, will potentially offer an attractive solution to cost-conscious helicopter operators across military and civil markets. Therefore, OPHs could soon evolve from test platforms towards low levels of production and then to higher levels adoption.

However, several barriers prevent such adoption. As a matter of fact, OPHs are facing similar challenges as UAS, despite offering different operational benefits. Regulations, ‘Sense and Avoid’ technology, and endurance/payload trade-offs are hindering OPH market entry in the coming years. Nonetheless, OPHs are poised to grow as they will pave the way towards complete UAS adoption.


  • Executive Summary
    • Key Findings
  • Market Scope and Definitions
    • Market Definition
    • Market Scope
    • Key Questions
  • Technology Readiness
    • OPHs Programs Timeline
  • Market Opportunities
    • Biggest Enablers to Consider for OPHs
    • Biggest Enablers to Consider for OPHs Explained
    • A Force Multiplier-The Versatile Military Aircraft Scenario (1 helicopter, 1optional pilot, several missions)
    • A Force Multiplier-The Versatile Civil Aircraft Scenario (1 helicopter, 1optional pilot, several missions)
    • A Force Multiplier-Manned/Unmanned Teaming Scenario (1 pilot, several aircraft, several possibilities)
    • Key Roles and Missions for Military OPHs
    • What are the Key Roles and Missions for Civil OPHs?
    • Where are OPH Future Market Opportunities?
  • Market Barriers
    • Biggest Restraints to Overcome
    • Biggest Restraints to Overcome Explained
    • First Adoption Barrier-Technology Readiness
    • Second Adoption Barrier-The Regulatory Clash
    • Second Adoption Barrier-Regulatory Timeline
    • Second Adoption Barrier-The Regulatory Clash
      • Nascent Certifications
      • National Airspace Integration
      • Moving Forward-Exports
    • Third Adoption Barrier-Operators Perception
      • Keeping Humans in the Loop
    • Third Adoption Barrier-Operators Perception of Aircraft
      • Hidden Costs
  • Market Penetration
    • When will the Conversion from Helicopter Fleet into OPHs Start?
    • Methodology
    • Forecast Methodology
    • Projected Impact on the Helicopter Industry 2035
    • Projected Impact on the Helicopter Industry 2035-Get Unmanned or Die Trying
  • Conclusions
    • Conclusion-OPHs in the Line of Sight `2015-2035'
    • Conclusion-What Value will OPH Bring to Operators?
  • Appendix
    • Level of Technology Maturity-NASA Technology Readiness Levels
    • Program # 1-K-MAX (R): The Pioneer
      • Table Program # 1-K-MAX (R): The Pioneer
    • Program # 2-A/MH-6X Little Bird, The Weaponised Rival
      • Table Program # 2-A/MH-6X Little Bird, The Weaponised Rival
    • Program # 3-Optionally Piloted BLACK HAWK (OPBH), A Heavier Player
      • Table Program # 3-Optionally Piloted BLACK HAWK (OPBH), A Heavier Player
    • Program # 4-Rotorcraft Unmanned Air System/OPH" (RUAS/OPH), A Promising European Blend
      • Table Program # 4-Rotorcraft Unmanned Air System/OPH" (RUAS/OPH), A Promising European Blend
    • Program # 5-EC 145, An Encouraging Cargo and ISR Performer
      • Table Program # 5-EC 145, An Encouraging Cargo and ISR Performer
    • Program # 6-SA-400 Jackal, A Gifted Outsider
      • Table Program # 6-SA-400 Jackal, A Gifted Outsider
    • Program # 7-Autonomous Aerial Cargo/Utility System (AACUS) Program
    • Program # 8-Autonomous Technologies for Unmanned Air Systems (ATUAS) Program
    • Program # 9-The Alternatives? RUAVs
    • OPH-RUAV Benchmark
    • List of Acronyms

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