On a recent sunny day in the Florida Panhandle, an explosion launched a miniature aircraft into the skies over the Gulf of Mexico to maneuver without remote piloting, a successful test of the Air Force's Skyborg system that could enable war jets to fly without remote piloting one day.
Today, even pilotless aircraft such as the MQ-9 Reaper are controlled remotely, thousands of miles away by an Air Force pilot sitting in a dark room, surrounded by screens and controls. The pilot is checking sensors such as altitude, wind speed, and fuel. He can change the aircraft direction and conduct reconnaissance and surveillance, even drone strikes against terrorists in far-flung locations. The future Air Force requires unmanned aircraft with full-mission autonomy. The Skyborg Vanguard program aims to deliver that need at a low cost and help to develop a system that will execute complex missions at machine speed.
"These initial flights kick off the experimentation campaign that will continue to mature the [autonomy core system] and build trust in the system," said Brig. Gen. Dale White, the program's executive officer at Tyndall Air Force Base, where the first test flight took place on April 29.
The Skyborg's brain, known as the autonomy core system, flew for 2 hours and 10 minutes, demonstrating basic flying capabilities and responding to ground commands.
Autonomous systems will help the Air Force increase capability and be a force multiplier, increasing flexibility and allowing the United States to confront peer adversaries at a fraction of the cost of traditional manned aircraft, according to the Air Force Research Laboratory.
The Air Force requires that people are always responsible for lethal decision-making, but the aircraft can use complex algorithms and sensors to make decisions to detect air and ground threats, proximity, and options for striking or avoiding enemy aircraft.
The aircraft can then feed that information to manned pilots, improving their situational awareness and survivability during a combat mission.
Future tests will show how the system can team up with other unmanned and even manned aircraft to execute a mission.
"Safely executing this test and providing the knowledge needed to advance the technology is at the heart of what we do," said Brig. Gen. Scott Cain of the 96th Test Wing. "As always, we're highly motivated to help bring war-winning technology to the next fight."
Original Location: Air Force tests 'Skyborg' brain to fly jets without remote piloting