Artificial intelligence flew an aircraft based on an F-16 fighter jet for more than 17 hours, the first time that AI was used to fly a tactical aircraft.
Lockheed Martin Aeronautics said in a press release on Monday that its VISTA X-62A, a modified version of the F-16D Block 30 Peace Marble Il, made the flight in December as part of a series of tests. The release states that the VISTA, which stands for Variable In-flight Simulation Test Aircraft, is equipped with software that allows it to follow the performance of other aircraft.
“VISTA will allow us to parallelize the development and test of cutting-edge artificial intelligence techniques with new uncrewed vehicle designs,” M. Christopher Cotting, the director of research for the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School, said in the release. “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.”
The Air Force officially recognized the VISTA and declared it a national asset in June 2021, according to the release.
The aircraft was recently upgraded to include a simulation system and model following algorithm to allow it to conduct “the most advanced flight test experiments.” It also features advanced sensors and tablet displays to permit quick software changes that increase how often flight tests can occur and accelerate the development of AI.
The release states that the aircraft is undergoing inspections, and tests will continue throughout 2023.
The science and technology magazine Popular Mechanics reported that sixth-generation fighter jets are still being conceptualized but are expected to be able to fly without pilots. Other countries such as the United Kingdom, Italy, Japan and Russia have also said they are developing fighter aircraft that algorithms guide instead of pilots, the outlet reported.