Lockheed Martin used artificial intelligence (AI) to pilot a one-of-a-kind training aircraft for more than 17 hours, representing the first time AI was engaged on a tactical aircraft, the company announced on Tuesday.
A statement from Lockheed Martin said that "VISTA, short for Variable In-flight Simulation Test Aircraft, is changing the face of air power at the US Air Force Test Pilot School (USAF TPS) at Edwards Air Force Base in California."
According to the statement, "VISTA is a one-of-a-kind training airplane developed by Lockheed Martin Skunk Works® in collaboration with Calspan Corporation for the USAF TPS. Built on open systems architecture, VISTA is fitted with software that allows it to mimic the performance characteristics of other aircraft."
What is the objective of VISTA?
"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, US 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."
Recent upgrades by the US Air Force, said Lockheed Martin, include an updated VISTA Simulation System (VSS) provided by Calspan, and Lockheed Martin's Model Following Algorithm (MFA), and System for Autonomous Control of the Simulation (SACS). "The SACS and MFA systems integrated together provide new capabilities to the VISTA so it can be used to conduct the most advanced flight test experiments emphasizing autonomy and AI," said the statement.
Although only announced Tuesday, the 17-plus hour flight by an AI agent took place as part of a series of tests in December.
VISTA is a modified F-16D Block 30 Peace Marble Il aircraft upgraded with Block 40 avionics, according to the statement. Lockheed Martin said that the previously designated NF-16D, had been recognized in June 2021 by the US Air Force and deemed a national asset with a formal redesignation to VISTA X-62A.