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AI Flies a Modified F-16D Fighter Jet for More Than 17 Hours

A Lockheed Martin training jet has logged more than 17 hours of flight time under the control of artificial intelligence, which counts as a first for a tactical aircraft.

The VISTA X-62A is a modified F-16D Block 30 Peace Marble Il upgraded with Block 40 avionics. On board is a combination of the VISTA Simulation System (VSS), Model Following Algorithm (MFA), and System for Autonomous Control of the Simulation (SACS). The end result is a jet that can be flown autonomously, while also being capable of mimicking the performance characteristics of other aircraft thanks to the on-board software.

The importance of VISTA as a development and training tool is conveyed by Dr. M. Christopher Cotting, U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School director of research, who explained(Opens in a new window):

“VISTA will allow us to parallelize the development and test of cutting-edge artificial intelligence techniques with new uncrewed vehicle designs,” and will allow for “rapidly mature autonomy for uncrewed platforms and allow us to deliver tactically relevant capability to our warfighter.”

The VSS is provided by Calspan, while the MFA and SACS is provided by Lockheed Martin. The VISTA project as a whole is developed by Lockheed Martin Skunk Works(Opens in a new window), which focuses on aircraft design, exotic aircraft platforms, and highly classified R&D programs.

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It’s hoped that VISTA will continue to allow for the rapid development of artificial intelligence and autonomy capabilities for the US Air Force. Flight testing is expected to resume following a current round of routine inpections and continue throughout 2023 at the US Air Force Test Pilot School (USAF TPS) at Edwards Air Force Base in California

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