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U.S. Air Force Tests X-62 VISTA Aircraft Testing The Use Of AI In Airspace & Defense

Manufacturers say their one-of-a-kind training aircraft was flown by an artificial intelligence agent for more than 17 hours. 

The U.S. Air Force has successfully flown an AI-controlled jet fighter in dogfights.

A joint Department of Defense team executed 12 flight tests in which artificial intelligence, or AI, agents piloted the X-62A Variable Stability In-Flight Simulator Test Aircraft (VISTA).

The X-62A VISTA Aircraft flying above Edwards Air Force Base, California. The AI-controlled jets was a joint Department of Defense team in partnership with Lockheed Martin. KYLE BRAISER/SWNS TALKER

The U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School’s VISTA was able to perform advanced fighter maneuvers at California’s Edwards Air Force Base in December.

Manufacturers Lockheed Martin say their one-of-a-kind training aircraft was flown by an artificial intelligence agent for more than 17 hours, representing the first time AI engaged on a tactical aircraft.

The Department of Defense said: “AACO’s (Autonomous Air Combat Operations) AI agents performed one-on-one beyond-visual-range, or BVR, engagements against a simulated adversary, and ACE’s AI agents performed within-visual-range maneuvering, known as dogfighting, against constructive AI red-team agents.”

The X-62A Variable Stability In-Flight Simulator Test Aircraft, or VISTA, flies over Palmdale, Calif., Aug. 26, 2022. The VISTA team is pushing for state-of-the-art test in autonomous flying ensuring the AI’s capability in flying. KYLE BRASIER/SWNS TALKER

Dr. Malcolm Cotting, director of Research for the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School, said: “The X-62A VISTA team has proven with this test campaign that they are capable of complex AI test missions that accelerate the development and testing of autonomy capabilities for the DOD.”

Cotting said the VISTA team will continue to support rapid advanced autonomy tests and push the state-of-the-art in flight testing.

Supporting organizations included the U.S. Air Force Test Center, the Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, were involved in the testing.

The tests are built upon the X-62A VISTA upgrade, which allows the X-62 to be controlled by AI-driven autonomy algorithms and mimic flight characteristics of fixed-wing vehicles such an MQ-20 or as in these tests, an F-16.

“The X-62A is rapidly accelerating the speed at which autonomy algorithms are tested,” said an official familiar with the experimentation. “The X-62A VISTA Gen2020 upgrade transformed the NF-16D VISTA into the X-62A VISTA to support autonomy testing such as this test campaign.”

The official said the rapid changes that can be achieved safely on VISTA allow researchers to respond to lessons learned quickly, improving capabilities during test windows.

“The X-62 is a flight test accelerator,” the experimentation official continued. “It allows the USAF to rapidly execute tactical autonomy algorithm and fixed-wing vehicle model flight tests. These tests generate data that is used to improve the algorithms and vehicle models at a remarkably fast pace.

Roger Tanner and Bill Gray pilot the Variable Stability In-Flight Simulator Test Aircraft (VISTA) from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, to Edwards AFB on Jan. 30, 2019 after receiving modifications and a new paint scheme. Researchers will continue to monitor the behavior of AI as it assesses the management of flying without a pilot. KYLE BRASIER/SWNS TALKER

“The X-62 illustrates the value of using crewed, surrogate vehicles that possess tactical performance characteristics as autonomy test assets,” he added.

The experimentation official said the joint team will continue leveraging the X-62 to test and evaluate autonomy capabilities and uncrewed vehicle models.

“After training our AI-driven autonomy agents using high-performance computing and modeling and simulation, it is critical that we fly these agents to validate the difference from the simulator to live flights,” said an AACO official.

“Having an aircraft like the X-62 is critical to rapid flight testing of these autonomous behaviors.”


Produced in association with SWNS Talker.

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