Skyborg completes second flight, this time autonomously piloting General Atomics’ Avenger drone

WASHINGTON – The Air Force conducted a second flight test of the robot pilot known as Skyborg, who autonomously flew a General Atomics MQ-20 Avenger drone on June 24.

The event comes about two months after Skyborg’s Central Range System (ACS) first flight aboard the Kratos UTAP-22 Mako, and proves that the system can be used to fly several types of unmanned aircraft.

“Flying the Skyborg ACS on platforms from two different manufacturers demonstrates the portability of the government-owned autonomy core, unlocking the joint force’s future multi-mission capabilities,” said Major General Heather Pringle, Commander from the Air Force Research Laboratory.

With Skyborg, the Air Force hopes to eventually align a loyal and expendable wingman style drone that can accompany manned tactical aircraft in combat, taking on missions that may be too dangerous for human fighter pilots.

Flight MQ-20 took place during Exercise Orange Flag at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Over a period of approximately 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 plane to the ACS, the Air Force said in a statement.

“The ACS accomplished basic aviation behaviors and responded to navigation commands, while responding to geo-fences, respecting aircraft flight envelopes and demonstrating coordinated maneuvers,” said the service.

Air Force personnel from a nearby ground command and control station monitored the flight.

While initially the program will focus on “demonstrating an open and modular ACS that can pilot, navigate and communicate autonomously”, the service ultimately wants to integrate more artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities. advances in Skyborg’s brain.

The Air Force is testing the Skyborg ACS with three drone makers, which were awarded contracts in December 2020. Kratos received $ 37.7 million, General Atomics obtained $ 14.3 million and Boeing – the only company that has yet to pair its drone with the ACS – got $ 25.7 million.

According to the service, “future Skyborg experimentation events will explore the direct piloted and unmanned association between manned airplanes and multiple unmanned airplanes controlled by ACS.”

Skyborg is one of the Air Force’s Vanguard programs – four high priority efforts where AFRL uses prototyping and experimentation to try to advance breakthrough technology.

Pringle is the Technology Director of the Skyborg program, while Brig. General Dale White, Director of the Fighter and Advanced Aircraft Service, executes the acquisition component of the program.

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