For the 1st time, an AI has just piloted a plane for 17 hours

Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming increasingly present in our daily lives, and now it has reached a new peak. An AI pilot has successfully completed a 17-hour flight without human assistance.

This historic flight marks a major step forward in the development of AI and autonomous piloting technology. The progress made in this field in recent years could well pave the way for a revolution in air transport, offering safer and more efficient flights.

AI pilot: a technology revolutionizing aviation

The aeronautics industry continues to push back the boundaries of technology with a major breakthrough. Indeed, an AI has succeeded in piloting the Lockheed Martin VISTA X-62A for over 17 hours during a test period last December. It was the very first flying aircraft equipped with a pilot AI that mimicked the movements and decisions of a human pilot.

Lockheed Martin is an American company specializing in aerospace, defense and security. It is one of the world’s military equipment suppliers in the world.. The company is best known for iconic projects such as the F-35 Lightning II fighter, the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber and GPS communications satellites.

VISTA is also a modified F-16D Block 30 Peace Marble II aircraft with Block 40 avionics. Previously designated NF-16D, in June 2021 the aircraft was recognized by the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy. considered a national asset with an official redesignation as VISTA X-62A.

Pilot AI paves the way for Lockheed Martin’s autonomous aircraft

This achievement is a milestone in the development of pilot AI. which could revolutionize the aeronautics industry. Lockheed hopes to use this model to test new autonomous aircraft designs. These could offer safer and more efficient flights.

“VISTA will enable the autonomy of unmanned platforms to evolve rapidly and to provide tactically relevant capabilities to our warfighters,” said Dr. M. Christopher Cotting, Director of Research at the US Air Force Test Pilot School (USAF TPS). This technological advance could also have a impact on the employment of human pilotsbecause autonomous aircraft could replace pilots in certain critical tasks.

How is the US Air Force using AI to pilot autonomous aircraft?

Lockheed’s Skunk Works division has collaborated with Calspan to create the VISTA program. The VISTA program is used to train US Air Force test pilots at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The VISTA program has played a key role in the development of advanced functionalities. These include the virtual head-up display and voice command system for the F-35 Lightning II.

To enhance the performance of the VISTA X-62A, the USAF added the autonomous simulation control systems (SACS) and themodel-following algorithm (MFA) from Lockheed. These systems made it possible to exploit the aircraft’s autonomy and AI for advanced flight testing. Their integration made it possible to use the pilot AI to drive the aircraft for more than 17 hours.