Skyborg Brain Flies For First Time On Surrogate UAS

Credit: USAF

A tactical unmanned aircraft system (UAS) has flown for the first time with the Skyborg Autonomy Control System (ACS) developed by the U.S. Air Force to provide the artificial intelligence “brains” of a future fleet of low-cost, unmanned fighter-bombers. 

A Kratos UTAP-22 Mako UAS flew a 2-hr., 10-min. flight test on April 29 from Tyndall AFB, Florida, to launch the Autonomous Attritable Aircraft Experimentation (AAAX) program this year with the Skyborg ACS, which was integrated by Leidos.

Later this year, the Skyborg ACS will be integrated on airframes such as the Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie, plus low-cost, attritable UAS designs supplied by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. and Boeing

“These initial flights kick off the experimentation campaign that will continue to mature the ACS and build trust in the system,” said Brig. Gen. Dale White, program executive officer for Fighters and Advanced Aircraft. 

The Skyborg technology represents a new level of autonomy achieved by a UAS. For decades, UAS have been designed to follow preplanned waypoints or navigational or mission-oriented commands by humans on the ground. As the Skyborg ACS software matures, the Air Force wants to demonstrate that multiple UAS can team up with a manned aircraft to complete a mission, while not overwhelming the human pilot with the need to actively control every movement and decision of his unmanned wingmen. 

On April 29, the UTAP-22 showed off the first, limited set of capabilities entrusted to the onboard ACS. 

“The ACS demonstrated basic aviation capabilities and responded to navigational commands, while reacting to geofences, adhering to aircraft flight envelopes, and demonstrating coordinated maneuvering,” the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center said in a news release. 

With the support of the Air Force Research Laboratory and the 96th Test Wing, the UTAP-22 flight was monitored by manned aircraft and command and control stations on the ground.

Steve Trimble

Steve covers military aviation, missiles and space for the Aviation Week Network, based in Washington DC.