The US Air Force says the Valkyrie drone launched another drone in a first for the aircraft

The US Air Force says the Valkyrie drone launched another drone in a first for the aircraft

April 5, 2021
  • The Air Force Research Laboratory conducted its sixth test of the Valkyrie drone in late March.
  • During the test, the drone launched a smaller drone from its internal weapons bay.
  • The Air Force is looking at Valkyrie as an autonomous UAV that could support manned aircraft.
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A Valkyrie drone launched another drone during a recent flight test, the Air Force Research Laboratory announced Monday.

The XQ-58A Valkyrie is a long-range unmanned aerial vehicle capable of high subsonic speeds. It was built by Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems for the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Low Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology (LCAAT) program and first flew on March 5, 2019.

The XQ-58A demonstrator completed its inaugural flight at Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona on March 5, 2019.Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joshua Hoskins

During its sixth flight test on March 26, 2021, the aircraft conducted its first payload release from its internal weapons bay, launching an Area-I ALTIUS-600 small unmanned aircraft system.

The Air Force is looking at relatively inexpensive, expendable drones like the Valkyrie as potential artificial-intelligence-driven autonomous platforms that could fly alongside and support manned fighter aircraft. This is the major focus of the Skyborg program.

The Air Force’s Skyborg project, for which Kratos, Boeing, and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems are developing prototypes, is about fielding autonomous unmanned systems that will “enable the Air Force to operate and sustain low-cost, teamed aircraft that can thwart adversaries with quick, decisive actions in contested environments,” the service says.

The smaller, tube-launched autonomous ALTIUS-600 drones provide additional support in the form of intelligence gathering and reconnaissance, counter-drone, electronic-warfare, and strike capabilities.

An XQ-58A launches at the US Army Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, December 9, 2020.U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua King

The recent Valkyrie test was not only the first time the payload doors have been opened in flight, Alyson Turri, the demonstration program manager, said in a statement, but this time the XQ-58A drone also flew higher and faster than it has in previous tests.

The recent test followed the Valkyrie drone’s fifth flight test in December, which involved the aircraft flying alongside Air Force F-22 and F-35A fighters and a Marine Corps F-35B.

An F-22 and F-35A with an XQ-58A over the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona during tests, December 9, 2020.U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Cason

The rocket-launched Valkyrie drone conducted a semi-autonomous flight while carrying a gatewayONE payload built to allow the different fifth-generation aircraft to communicate, though the communication tool lost connectivity shortly after the aircraft took off.

Despite the connectivity problem during the testing in December, the Air Force was able to overcome the digital security barriers to allow the F-22’s Intra-Flight Data Link and F-35’s Multifunctional Advanced Data Link to communicate and transmit data, demonstrating some of the possibilities for this technology.

The Air Force Research Laboratory said that the most recent Valkyrie drone test, which like past tests was conducted at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona and supported by Kratos and Area-I, “further demonstrates the utility of affordable, high performance unmanned air vehicles.”

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