In December 2021, a Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jet named Vista X-62A became the first tactical aircraft piloted by artificial intelligence during a test flight from Edwards Air Force Base, California.
This can be a big deal because new pilots need to be trained to fly high-performance aircraft in a variety of conditions. Because fighters are so expensive to produce and maintain, air forces today are much smaller than they used to be. Therefore, it is difficult to adequately train these “flying thoroughbreds.”
Engineers now have a tool that can do two things at once, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence.
The “Variable Flight Simulation Test Aircraft” (VISTA), developed by Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works classified research laboratory in collaboration with Calspan Corporation, is used at the US Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards to simulate the flight characteristics of various aircraft. In addition, it includes independence.
The VISTA X-62A is a modified F-16D Block 30 Peace Marble II. 40 avionics are installed. It was first designated the NF-16D, but in June 2021, the US government declared it a national asset and renamed it the X-62A.
The Vista X-62A packs advanced features inside a loaded aluminium alloy shell. Calspan’s “VISTA Simulation System” (VSS) and Lockheed Martin’s “Model Following Algorithm” (MFA) and “System for Autonomous Control of the Simulation” (SACS) are two of the most prominent.
Together, they give the machine new functions that make it a system that can fly itself and a place to test artificial intelligence. Skunk Works’ “Enterprise-wide Open” runs the “Enterprise Mission Computer” version 2 (EMC2), also known as the “Einstein box.” Systems Architecture” (E-OSA) in the SACS system.
In addition, the front and rear of the cockpit use Getac tablet displays and advanced sensors.
Lockheed says the Vista X-62A has better capabilities and also allows for fast software changes for rapid prototyping, which accelerates development and allows for additional test flights.
VISTA X-62A is currently under inspection; the flight continues after it ends.
“VISTA enables us to develop and test cutting-edge artificial intelligence technologies in parallel with new unmanned vehicles,” explained Dr. M. Christopher Cotting of the United States, Research Director of the Air Force Test Pilot School. “This approach, combined with targeted testing of new vehicle systems as they go into production, will rapidly mature the autonomy of unmanned platforms and allow us to deliver tactically important capabilities to our warplanes,” he added.