US Defense Department Lets An AI Pilot Take The Stick Of F16 Jet Fighter For 17 Hours
A major milestone in airflight comes in the form a highly-modified F-16 being successfully controlled by an AI bot for 17 hours over 12 flights back in December 2022.
Last week, the Department of Defense revealed details of a set of experimental flights by the experimental flight platform over the Air Force Test Pilot School in Edwards AFB in California. The aircraft used in the joint project by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the US Air Force was a revised F-16, called the X-62A, aka VISTA (Variable In-flight Simulator Test Aircraft). The research showed that AI can fully control a fighter aircraft in various live scenarios—making decisions and executing maneuvers similar to how a human pilot would.
This test is big news because it was not using GPS waypoint navigation or coupled ILS takeoff-landling like a regular autopilot system. The Vista autonomously conducted real-time takeoffs and landings, and even engaged in simulated combat missions such as dogfighting—the first time this has ever been done. Throughout the 12-day trial, the two-seater VISTA flew four different AI algorithms developed by Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, EpiSci, PhysicsAI, and Shield AI.
Commenting on the flight results, Air Force Lt. Col. Ryan Hefron said, "We didn’t run into any major issues but did encounter some differences compared to simulation-based results, which is to be expected when transitioning from virtual to live." In case things were to go south, there was a safety pilot on the aircraft.
As far as we know, there are no additional plans for more or similar tests, although the DOD is planning to leverage data from the VISTA test to evaluate other unmanned and autonomous vehicle models. What this means is we could be soon saying goodbye to traditional human pilots and, at worst, be taking another step towards Skynet taking over the world.