VISTA X-62 fighter flies for 17 hour during test


The X-62 VISTA training aircraft has been flown by an artificial intelligence for more than 17 hours, the first time an AI has been engaged on a tactical aircraft.

The 17-plus hour flight by an AI (artificial intelligence)  agent took place as part of a series of tests during December.

The VISTA (Variable In-flight Simulation Test Aircraft) X-62A was developed by Lockheed Martin and Calspan for the US Air Force Test Pilot School (USAF TPS) at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

The US Air Force plans to continue to use X-62A in the development of AI and autonomy capabilities for the US Air Force. X-62A is currently undergoing a series of routine inspections. Flights will resume at Edwards Air Force Base throughout 2023.

VISTA has been built with an open systems architecture and fitted with software that allows it to mimic the performance characteristics of other aircraft.

Christopher Cotting, US Air Force Test Pilot School director of research said, “VISTA will allow us to parallelize the development and test of cutting-edge artificial intelligence techniques with new uncrewed vehicle designs.

“This approach, combined with focused testing on new vehicle systems as they are produced, will rapidly mature autonomy for uncrewed platforms and allow us to deliver tactically relevant capability to our warfighter.”

Recent upgrades by the US Air Force include an updated VISTA Simulation System (VSS) provided by Calspan, Lockheed Martin’s Model Following Algorithm (MFA), and System for Autonomous Control of the Simulation (SACS).

The SACS and MFA systems integrated together provide new capabilities to the VISTA so it can be used to conduct the most advanced flight test experiments emphasizing autonomy and AI.

VISTA is a modified F-16D Block 30 Peace Marble Il aircraft upgraded with Block 40 avionics. In June 2021 VISTA was redesignated to VISTA X-62A.

This new mission system capability with VSS, MFA and SACS emphasizes advancing autonomous aircraft algorithm development and integration. The SACS system uses the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works Enterprise-wide Open Systems Architecture (E-OSA) which powers the Enterprise Mission Computer version 2 (EMC2) or “Einstein Box.”

Additional SACS components include the integration of advanced sensors, a Multi-Level Security solution, and a set of Getac tablet displays in both cockpits. These components enhance VISTA’s capabilities while maintaining its rapid-prototyping advantage, specifically allowing for quick software changes to increase the frequency of flight test flights and accelerating the pace of AI and autonomy development to meet urgent national security needs.

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About Author


Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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