The US Air Force (USAF), the Skunk Works division of Lockheed Martin and the Calspan Corporation performed a flight of over 17 hours a few days ago with the VISTA X-62A, a modular test version of the F-16 fighter.
But the jet was flown by an artificial intelligence (AI) agent, according to Lockheed. It was the first time that an AI entity was engaged on a tactical aircraft.
The VISTA (an acronym for Variable In-flight Simulation Test Aircraft) is the new designation of the NF-16D, an F-16D Block 30 Peace Marble Il that has been upgraded with Block 40 avionics.
The aircraft has been in use at Edwards Air Force Base for about 20 years with the mission of testing new systems, as it is an F-16 with open architecture, capable of receiving new modular software in an agile way.
In June 2021, the Air Force decided to rename the NF-16D as the VISTA X-62A. The supersonic jet then received an updated VISTA Simulation System (VSS) provided by Calspan, and Lockheed Martin’s Model Following Algorithm (MFA), and System for Autonomous Control of the Simulation (SACS).
The more than 17-hour AI flight took place as part of a series of tests that began in December.
“This new mission system capability with VSS, MFA and SACS enhance advancing autonomous aircraft algorithm development and integration. At the heart of SACS system is the Skunk Works Enterprise-wide Open Systems Architecture (E-OSA) which powers the Enterprise Mission Computer version 2 (EMC2) or ‘Einstein Box’,” said Lockheed Martin.
The US Air Force intends to accelerate the development of Artificial Intelligence and autonomous flight and the VISTA program is considered crucial for this. The aircraft should resume testing during 2023.