Artificial intelligence flies fighter jet for 17 hours in aviation first

Kyle Brasier/U.S. Air Force/Cover Images

An F-16-based fighter jet was piloted by artificial intelligence for 17 hours in an aviation first.

In an series of tests performed in December, aerospace company Lockheed Martin set its VISTA X-62A tactical test aircraft on a modified F-16D aircraft.

The plane was flown for a staggering 17 hours across 12 different flights above Edwards Air Force Base in California. As part of the simulation test, a pair of Getac tablets were installed in both cockpits during the flight that houses the company’s AI system.

The software can initially perform different characteristics of an aircraft for analysis, and this time it took on the form of a human pilot. The project’s primary goal is to one day send planes up into the sky autonomously.

"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 in a statement. "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."