Self-driving fighter tested by the US Air Force

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The US Air Force has reported that its X-62A VISTA, an AI-guided aircraft, completed a 17-hour flight without human intervention, marking a successful milestone in the development of autonomous fighter planes. In December 2022, twelve live tests were conducted on the VISTA, which is short for Variable Stability In-Flight Simulator Test Aircraft, involving complex manoeuvres and beyond visual range tasks.

The VISTA passed all tests, including face-to-face manoeuvring combat, demonstrating that it can relieve the pilot of certain tasks in future operations. The X-62A was previously an F-16 and became a special test aircraft two years ago. While the system appears to be dependable, a pilot has always been present on board as a backup control.

The X-62A is known as a “flight test accelerator” because it allows the Air Force to fine-tune the AI after each task is completed, enabling them to move quickly to the next test within hours.

According to Lt Col Ryan “Hal” Hefron, the system has undergone several take-offs and landings, and has been tested in various conditions against different enemies and weapons. While there were differences compared to simulations, which is expected when transitioning from virtual to real space, the system has performed well, with no major problems encountered. The VISTA platform allows for faster learning and iteration compared to other aircraft, Hefron states.

The US Department of Defense has initiated over 600 AI projects since 2018, with a budget of more than two billion dollars allocated for these efforts.


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