United States Secretary of the Air Force flies AI-piloted X-62A VISTA aircraft

U.S. Air Force photo

US Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall took to the skies in the X-62A VISTA at Edwards Air Force Base on May 2, 2024. 

The X-62A, also known as VISTA (Variable In-flight Simulation Test Aircraft), is a highly modified version of the General Dynamics F-16D, which the USAF has utilized since the early 1990s to test advanced technology. 

The X-62A has been integrated into DARPA’s Air Combat Evolution (ACE) program and was equipped with machine learning and specialized software to explore the possibilities of autonomous flying.

During the test flight, Kendall, sitting in the front seat and accompanied by a safety pilot in the backseat, completed a set of test points without touching the controls of the X-62A. The test involved a series of tactical maneuvers with live agents responding to a simulated threat.

U.S. Air Force photo

“The potential for autonomous air-to-air combat has been imaginable for decades, but the reality has remained a distant dream up until now,” Kendall said in a statement. “This is a transformational moment, all made possible by breakthrough accomplishments of the ACE team.”

In April 2024, the US Air Force Test Pilot School and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced they had completed the first AI versus human dogfights. The flight tests pitted the X-62A VISTA against manned F-16 aircraft above Edwards Air Force Base.  

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