The research agency of US Department of Defense, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) said on February 13 that a modified F-16 fighter jet had completed an Artificial Intelligence-controlled test flight for the first time in history.
The F-16 was modified and upgraded to an all-new configuration that came to be known as the X-62A Variable In-flight Simulation Test Aircraft or VISTA. It was reportedly flown by an artificial intelligence for 17 hours.
In early December 2022, Alternating Conditional Expectations (ACE) algorithm developers uploaded their AI software into a specially modified F-16 test aircraft known as the X-62A or VISTA at the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base California, and flew multiple flights over several days, read DARPA press release. The flights demonstrated that AI agents can control a full-scale fighter jet and provided invaluable live-flight data.
A unique training aircraft VISTA was created by Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in association with Calspan Corporation. It had software that enabled it to replicate the performance characteristics of other aircraft, including flight control capabilities. It was built on an open systems design.
The autonomous test flight is a breakthrough for DARPA’s ACE program, which started taking shape in 2019. It was based on the concept of man-machine cooperation in dog fighting. The Pentagon is integrating AI into more than 600 projects, including ACE, to bolster the nation’s defense capabilities.