WASHINGTON - The helicopter kicked up a cloud of freshly fallen snow that partly obscured the ground below, but despite the poor visibility, it gently touched down in a landing that was unremarkable except for the fact no one was at the controls.

The helicopter, filmed during testing by the Naval Research Laboratory, was piloted by a 100-pound (45-kg) sensor and software package that officials said can turn any rotary-winged aircraft into a virtually autonomous drone able to fly with minimal input from the Marine Corps troops it was designed to serve.

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Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder, chief of Naval Research, said the sensor and software pack is "truly leap-ahead technology" that will let a Marine with no flight experience issue landing instructions to a cargo helicopter via tablet computer after just a few minutes of training.

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