The first-ever flight of an XQ-58A Valkyrie uncrewed aircraft controlled by artificial intelligence has been completed by the United States Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).
The three-hour flight mission was carried out on the Eglin Test and Training Complex in Florida on July 25, 2023.
“The mission proved out a multi-layer safety framework on an AI/ML-flown [artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) – ed. note] uncrewed aircraft and demonstrated an AI/ML agent solving a tactically relevant ‘challenge problem’ during airborne operations,” said Colonel Tucker Hamilton, Air Force AI Test and Operations chief and 96th Operations Group commander. “This sortie officially enables the ability to develop AI/ML agents that will execute modern air-to-air and air-to-surface skills that are immediately transferrable to the CCA [collaborative combat aircraft – ed. note] program.”
The algorithms controlling the XQ-58A Valkyrie underwent maturation through “millions of hours in high fidelity simulation events, sorties on the X-62 VISTA [a modified F-16 fighter jet flown by AI – ed. note], hardware-in-the-Loop events with the XQ-58A, and ground test operations,” the AFRL explained.
The first two XQ-58 Valkyrie stealth combat drones were delivered to the 40th Flight Test Squadron stationed at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, in November 2022.
The Valkyrie is intended to have an operating range of 1,500 nautical miles, a top speed of Mach 0.9, and carry a payload of 272 kilograms, providing fighter-like performances to its operators. The USAF Skyborg program aims to develop drones as expendable wingmen for piloted fighter aircraft, a concept known as ‘loyal wingmen’.