The Lockheed Martin VISTA X-62A, a one-of-a-kind training aircraft, was flown by an artificial intelligence agent, representing the first time AI engaged on a tactical aircraft.
A training fighter jet flew without the involvement of a human pilot for more than 17 hours under the control of artificial intelligence alone, the U.S. aerospace company has revealed.
The 17-plus hour flight by an AI agent took place as part of a series of tests at the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School (USAF TPS) at Edwards Air Force Base in California in December.
VISTA (Variable In-flight Simulation Test Aircraft) is developed by Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in collaboration with Calspan Corporation for the USAF TPS. It is a modified version of the F-16D Block 30 Peace Marble Il aircraft with upgraded Block 40 avionics. Originally designated as NF-16D, in June 2021, VISTA was recognized by the U.S. Air Force and deemed a national asset with a formal redesignation to VISTA X-62A.
Built on open systems architecture, VISTA is fitted with software that allows it to mimic the performance characteristics of other aircraft. Recent upgrades by the U.S. 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 are integrated together to provide new capabilities to the VISTA so it can be used to conduct the most advanced flight test experiments emphasizing autonomy and AI.
This new mission system capability with VSS, MFA, and SACS emphasizes advancing autonomous aircraft algorithm development and integration. At the heart of the SACS system is the Skunk Works Enterprise-wide Open Systems Architecture (E-OSA), which powers the Enterprise Mission Computer version 2 (EMC2), also known as Einstein Box, which is designed to allow older systems to link together for sharing of data across all domains. The aircraft also has advanced sensors, a Multi-Level Security solution, and a set of Getac tablet displays in both cockpits.
“VISTA will allow us to parallelize the development and test of cutting-edge artificial intelligence techniques with new uncrewed vehicle designs,” said Dr. M. Christopher Cotting, U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School director of research. “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.”
VISTA will continue to serve an integral role in the rapid development of AI and autonomy capabilities for the U.S. Air Force. It is currently ongoing a series of routine inspections. Flights will resume at Edwards Air Force Base throughout 2023.