Home Air US Air Force flies Avenger-based Skyborg prototype during Orange Flag drill

US Air Force flies Avenger-based Skyborg prototype during Orange Flag drill

MQ-20 Avenger Skyborg prototype
A General Atomics MQ-20 Avenger unmanned vehicle returns to El Mirage Airfield, Calif. June 24, 2021, after participating in Edwards Air Force Base’s Orange Flag 21-2 to test the Skyborg Autonomy Core System. Photo: General Atomics

The US Air Force has carried out another flight test of the Skyborg prototype carried on the General Atomics MQ-20 Avenger tactical unmanned vehicle during the Orange Flag 21-2 large force test event at Edwards AFB, California.

On June 24, an Avenger UAV equipped with the Skyborg autonomy core system (ACS) performed a two hours and thirty minutes flight test, performing a series of foundational behaviors necessary to characterize safe system operation.

Once the MQ-20 safety pilot had achieved steady, level flight at altitude, the operator handed over control to the ACS to demonstrate its ability to execute basic flight autonomy behaviors.

According to the service, the ACS accomplished basic aviation behaviors and responded to navigational commands, while reacting to geo-fences, adhering to aircraft flight envelopes, and demonstrating coordinated maneuvering. It was monitored from a ground command and control station.

The Skyborg program is focused on demonstrating an open, modular ACS that can autonomously aviate, navigate, and communicate, and eventually integrate other advanced capabilities.

The test flight was part of the program’s Autonomous Attritable Aircraft Experimentation (AAAx) campaign line of effort to test and inform ACS development as it matures.

The flight comes two months after the ACS was first demonstrated onboard a Kratos UTAP-22 tactical unmanned vehicle at Tyndall AFB, Florida on 29 April 2021. By integrating the ACS on the MQ-20 less than two months after completing tests on the UTAP-22, the Skyborg team proved the ACS’s modularity, portability, and scalability by demonstrating the same capabilities on a completely different aircraft using the same software release.

“This type of operational experimentation enables the Air Force to raise the bar on new capabilities, made possible by emerging technologies,” said Brig. Gen. Dale White, Program Executive Officer for Fighters and Advanced Aircraft. “and this flight is a key milestone in achieving that goal.”

“Flying the Skyborg ACS on platforms from two different manufacturers demonstrates the portability of the Government-owned autonomy core, unlocking future multi-mission capabilities for the Joint Force,” said Maj. Gen. Heather Pringle, Commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Skyborg Technology Executive Officer (TEO).

The Avenger flight marked the first time the Emerging Technologies Combined Test Force (ET-CTF) has worked on a Group 5 UAS. The Group 5 UAS category features the largest unmanned aircraft vehicles in size with a maximum gross takeoff weight of more than 1,320 lbs, an operating altitude of more than 18,000 feet and capable of speeds faster than 250 knots.

“As we have throughout our history, the test and evaluation enterprise is adapting our people and capabilities to compete at the speed of relevance. The execution of this flight test is a great milestone for our closely integrated development and acquisition team. Safely executing this test in conjunction with Orange Flag both expands the envelope for autonomous vehicle flight testing and improves warfighter confidence working with autonomous wingmen. As always, we’re highly motivated to help bring tomorrow’s technology to the warfighter today,” said Brig. Gen Matthew Higer, the commander of the 412th Test Wing responsible for these test missions at Edwards AFB.

Future Skyborg experimentation events will explore direct manned-unmanned teaming between manned aircraft and multiple ACS-controlled unmanned aircraft, the air force said.