US Air Force Research Laboratory engineers have prepared the XQ-58A Valkyrie Tail #1 to be transferred to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, a little over two years after it first flew in March 2019.
The XQ-58A Valkyrie is a low cost, high performance unmanned air vehicle. Tail #1 was the first aircraft developed in partnership between AFRL and Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, Inc. to be a part of AFRL’s Low Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology portfolio.
“Kratos manufactured this aircraft and AFRL conducted flight tests with it four times,” said Dave Hart, the chief engineer for the Autonomous Collaborative Platforms program. “Transferring it to the Air Force Museum helps to show the world what AFRL is capable of and it truly tells the AFRL story.”
After the first airframe wrapped up the four flights, another one continued the testing campaign, which included the release of the air-launched ALTIUS-600 small unmanned aircraft system (SUAS) that was released from the internal weapons bay of the XQ-58A.
The collaborative Valkyrie partnership included Kratos’ design and production of the aircraft, while the AFRL Aerospace Systems Directorate provided critical turbine inlet integration, structural testing, and evaluation of the XQ-58A’s electrical and control subsystems.
XQ-58 was designed to serve as an escort for the F-22 or F-35 as a runway-independent, reusable “wingman” UAS controlled by the parent aircraft for a range of missions. In December 2020, F-22 and F-35 fighters overcame long standing connectivity limitations to share actionable operational data in their native secure digital “languages” thanks to the help of a Valkyrie flying alongside them and serving as a “data translator.”
“The XQ-58A Valkyrie represents a sea of change in the way the Air Force can approach the design, development, production, and operation of unmanned aircraft,” said Steve Fendley, the president of Kratos Unmanned Systems Division. “The Valkyrie is the first Department of Defense aircraft system to break the historical cost per weight parametric, and it is the first UAV designed to operate with 4th and 5th generation manned aircraft.”
The XQ-58A was designed, built, and demonstrated after a period of only two and a half years from contract award to first flight. The vision is that these aircraft will be used in a fractionated networked battlespace, forcing a cost-imposing effect on future adversaries.
Based in part on lessons learned from the Valkyrie program, the US Air Force is now working on the Skyborg Vanguard program which will aim to integrate full-mission autonomy with low-cost, attritable unmanned air vehicle technology to enable manned-unmanned teaming.
Kratos is one of three companies downselected to deliver Skyborg prototypes with its UTAP-22 tactical unmanned vehicle performing a first flight test of the Skyborg autonomy core system (ACS) in April this year.