🇺🇸 U.S. Air Force tests Skyborg AI aboard MQ-20 Avenger tactical drone
The U.S. Air Force conducted flight tests of the Skyborg artificial intelligence aboard the MQ-20 Avenger tactical unmanned aerial vehicle from General Atomics. The Air Force is focusing on demonstrating an open, modular control system that can autonomously fly an aircraft and transmit information. Tests lasting 2 hours 30 minutes were conducted during the Orange Flag 21-2 event at AFB Edwards in California. The test flight took place just two months after the AI was integrated with Kratos' UTAP-22, Skyborg's team proved the modularity, portability and scalability of an autonomous control system on a completely different aircraft using the same software.
The MQ-20 flight took place during the Orange Flag exercise at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., over a period of about two hours and 30 minutes. After a human operator launched the Avenger drone and flew it to a safe altitude, it passed control of the aircraft to the ACS, the Air Force said in a statement.
“The ACS accomplished basic aviation behaviors and responded to navigational commands, while reacting to geo-fences, adhering to aircraft flight envelopes, and demonstrating coordinated maneuvering,” the service stated.
Air Force personnel at a nearby ground command and control station monitored the flight.
While initially the program will be focused on “demonstrating an open, modular ACS that can autonomously aviate, navigate, and communicate,” the service eventually wants to integrate more advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities into the Skyborg brain.
The Air Force is testing the Skyborg ACS with three drone manufacturers, which were awarded contracts in December 2020. Kratos received a $37.7 million, General Atomics got $14.3 million, and Boeing — the only company who has not yet paired its drone with the ACS — got $25.7 million.
According to the service, “future Skyborg experimentation events will explore direct manned-unmanned teaming between manned aircraft and multiple ACS-controlled unmanned aircraft.”
Skyborg is one of the Air Force’s Vanguard programs — four high-priority efforts where AFRL is using prototyping and experimentation to try to push groundbreaking technology forward.