AI Flies Lockheed Martin Training Jet (F-16D) for Over 17 Hours

Image: Lockheed Martin

“The end is inevitable, Maverick. Your kind is headed for extinction.” – Admiral Cain, Top Gun: Maverick (2022). Lockheed Martin has announced that the VISTA X-62A, its one-of-a-kind training aircraft based on a modified F-16D Block 30 Peace Marble Il, was recently flown by artificial intelligence for over 17 hours, marking the first time that AI has been engaged on a tactical aircraft. Short for Variable In-flight Simulation Test Aircraft, VISTA will continue to serve an integral role in the rapid development of AI and autonomy capabilities for the U.S. Air Force amid reports of the service branch suffering from a pilot shortage.

“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.”

From a Lockheed Martin press release:

Built on open systems architecture, VISTA is fitted with software that allows it to mimic the performance characteristics of other aircraft.

VISTA is a modified F-16D Block 30 Peace Marble Il aircraft upgraded with Block 40 avionics. Previously designated 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.

This new mission system capability with VSS, MFA and SACS emphasize 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.”

Additional SACS components include 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.

For decades, Lockheed Martin has been applying and deploying trusted AI technologies to help its customers maximize performance, safety, and situational awareness across all domains. Lockheed Martin’s implementations keep people in control while enabling them to be safer, more effective and better able to focus on higher-level tasks by empowering them to make more-informed decisions quickly.

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