The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) successfully completed the XQ-58A Valkyrie’s sixth flight test and first release from its internal weapons bay, March 26, 2021 at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona.
This test, conducted in partnership with Kratos UAS and Area-I, demonstrated the ability to launch an ALTIUS-600 Small, Unmanned Aircraft System (SUAS) from the internal weapons bay of the XQ-58A Valkyrie. Kratos, Area-I and AFRL designed and fabricated the SUAS carriage and developed software to enable release. After successful release of the SUAS, the XQ-58A Valkyrie completed additional test points to expand its demonstrated operating envelope.
«This is the sixth flight of the XQ-58A Valkyrie and the first time the payload bay doors have been opened in flight», said Alyson Turri, demonstration program manager. «In addition to this first SUAS separation demonstration, the XQ-58A Valkyrie flew higher and faster than previous flights».
This test further demonstrates the utility of affordable, high performance unmanned air vehicles.
The Air Force Research Laboratory is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development, and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space, and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 11,000 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development.
On December 9, the joint force took another step toward achieving a military Internet of Things (IoT) when fifth-generation aircraft overcame long standing connectivity limitations to share actionable operational data in their native secure digital «languages» with and through multiple sources for the first time.
This test was the latest demonstration of the transformative warfighting impact of the open architecture underpinning the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS).
The joint effort included a Marine Corps F-35B variant and the Air Force F-22 Raptor and F-35A Lightning II variant flying with an attritableONE XQ-58A Valkyrie for the first time. The primary tests took place at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona with preparatory tests at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.
Lieutenant Colonel Kate Stowe, gatewayONE program manager at the Air Force Lifecycle Management Center, set out with 18 test objectives and successfully achieved nine.
«Testing is all about pushing the limits of what’s possible, finding out where the toughest challenges are, and adapting creative solutions to overcoming difficult problem sets», Stowe said. «The real win of the day was seeing the gatewayONE establish a secure two-way translational data path across multiple platforms and multiple domains. That’s the stuff ABMS is all about».
Fifth-generation fighters are typically limited to communicating with each other and to command and control centers via legacy tactical data connections, not in their native, but incompatible digital «languages» – Multifunctional Advanced Data Link for F-35 Lightning II and Intra-Flight Data Link for the F-22 Raptor. Not only can gatewayONE translate between those formats, in this test it moved data that is normally relegated to an operations center or tactical ground node, directly pushing it into the cockpit at the edge of the multi-domain battlespace for the first time.
Additionally, the test pushed the position data of each platform outside of the aircraft’s close-proximity formation through gatewayONE, which enables battle managers on the ground or in the air to better orchestrate operations. The gatewayONE payload also passed tracks or cues from ground operators to both fighters and passed a cue from the F-35A Lightning II to the F-22 Raptor for the first time. These bi-directional communications pathways occurred in the platforms’ native digital «languages» and the data was displayed through the aircrafts’ organic systems.
«The gatewayONE payload really showed what’s possible and helped us take a big step towards achieving (Joint All-Domain Command and Control)», said Lieutenant Colonel Eric Wright, a 59th Test and Evaluation Squadron F-35 pilot. «This critical capability provides additional connections between our advanced fighters and other forces and battle managers across all domains. The future is promising, and gatewayONE will allow the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II to connect to and feed data sources they’ve never before accessed. Those future connections will bring additional battlefield awareness into the cockpit and enable integrated fires across U.S. forces».
Additional successful tests during the week included establishing a communications pathway between the KC-46 Pegasus tanker and a ground node using commercial internet routing standards over the Tactical Targeting Network Technology waveform and the F-35B Lightning II sending full-motion video to a ground controller.
«If fifth-generation platforms are going to be quarterbacks of a joint-penetrating team, we have to be able to communicate with those quarterbacks in an operationally relevant manner and enable data sharing between them, to them, and from them. For years people said it couldn’t be done. Today the team turned another page toward making the impossible possible», said Preston Dunlap, Air and Space Force’s chief architect. «In just 12 months, the team has opened the door to a world where we can put the power of an operations center into the cockpit at the tactical edge».
The December 9 flight test included the attritableONE platform, also known as the XQ-58 Valkyrie, a lower-cost, unmanned, aerial vehicle. The rocket-launched Valkyrie successfully conducted a semi-autonomous flight alongside the F-22 Raptor and F-35s for the first time. The gatewayONE payload was integrated into the Valkyrie for its maiden voyage with the fifth-generation fighters to conduct an initial test of gateway capabilities from an attritable platform; however, shortly after takeoff, the communications payloads lost connectivity and those test objectives were unable to be accomplished.
The acquisition team – comprised of Air Force Research Laboratory and Air Force Life Cycle Management Center personnel working in conjunction with Eglin Air Force Base, Florida’s 46th Test Squadron – came together to make this test a success and empower the platforms involved with capability desired by the warfighter and operator.
This integrated test follows a series of gatewayONE ground tests that began during the inaugural Department of the Air Force architecture on-ramp last year in December.
ABMS is the Air Force and Space Force’s priority program to develop the military’s first Internet of Things and is the services’ primary contribution to Joint All-Domain Command and Control, a Defense Department-led effort to securely connect all elements of the U.S. military–every sensor and shooter–across land, air, sea, space and cyberspace.
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), along with partner Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, Inc., completed the successful fourth flight test of the XQ-58A Valkyrie low-cost Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) demonstrator January 23, 2020, at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona.
During the test event, the Valkyrie demonstrator’s flight successfully met all of the test objectives, and the envelope was expanded beyond prior tests before safely landing in the Arizona desert. According to AFRL XQ-58A Valkyrie Program Manager Michael Wipperman, flying at higher altitude allowed researchers to gather data in an operational environment more representative of real-world flight conditions.
«Flying at this altitude helped us gather important data such as vehicle response to temperature and vibration, which will prepare us as we move toward our next flight test», said Wipperman.
This test event represents a return-to-flight for the XQ-58A Valkyrie, which experienced a mishap upon landing after a successful 90-minute flight in October 2019. Following a Safety Investigation Board probe into the mishap, Wipperman says the resulting information was outbriefed to the convening authority, and the recommendations were taken and approved to ensure the success of this latest test.
«We’re very pleased with the outcome of this fourth flight test», said Wipperman. «We were able to show recovery for a successful flight at even higher altitudes. Given that we have overcome these challenges, we have confidence that the aircraft can continue its progression into flying in more representative conditions».
Developed as part of AFRL’s Low Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology portfolio, the XQ-58A Valkyrie is designed to be a runway-independent, reusable unmanned air vehicle capable of a broad range of operational missions. The XQ-58A Valkyrie was developed through low cost procurement and is designed to be significantly less expensive to operate than traditional piloted or unpiloted vehicles, while capable of achieving the same critical missions. Taking only 2.5 years from contract award to first flight, it is the first example of a class of unmanned air vehicles developed through this time-saving process, which seeks to break the escalating cost trajectory of tactically relevant aircraft.
A total of five flights are planned for the XQ-58A Valkyrie, with objectives that include evaluating system functionality, aerodynamic performance, and launch and recovery systems. The fifth flight, scheduled for later this year, will be a capability demonstration showcasing the ability of the vehicle to support operational needs.
The XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrator, a long-range, high subsonic unmanned air vehicle completed its inaugural flight March 5, 2019 at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona. The Air Force Research Laboratory partnered with Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems to develop the XQ-58A.
This joint effort falls within the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Low Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology (LCAAT) portfolio, which has the objective to break the escalating cost trajectory of tactically relevant aircraft. The objectives of the LCAAT initiative include designing and building UAS faster by developing better design tools, and maturing and leveraging commercial manufacturing processes to reduce build time and cost.
Developed for runway independence, the aircraft behaved as expected and completed 76 minutes of flight time. The time to first flight took a little over 2.5 years from contract award. The XQ-58A has a total of five planned test flights in two phases with objectives that include evaluating system functionality, aerodynamic performance, and launch and recovery systems.
«XQ-58A is the first example of a class of UAV that is defined by low procurement and operating costs while providing game changing combat capability», said Doug Szczublewski, AFRL’s XQ-58A Program Manager.
The XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrator, a long-range, high subsonic unmanned air vehicle, completed its inaugural flight March 5, 2019 at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona. The Air Force Research Laboratory partnered with Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems to develop the XQ-58A (US Air Force video)