An XQ-58A Valkyrie unmanned aerial vehicle undergoing testing with the U.S. Air Force was damaged during its third flight test this week, forcing its next test to be delayed until an investigation is complete, officials announced Thursday.
The Valkyrie drone was hit by “high surface winds” and also suffered “a malfunction of the vehicle’s provisional flight test recovery system” and landed in a damaged state at the testing ranges in Yuma, Arizona, on Oct. 9, the Air Force said.
The drone is part of the Air Force’s Low-Cost Attritable Strike Demonstration program, an effort to develop unmanned attack aircraft that are intended to be reusable, but cheap enough that they can be destroyed without significant loss.
“We continue to learn about this aircraft and the potential … technology [it] can offer to the warfighter,” said Maj. Gen. William Cooley, commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory, in a released statement.
“This third flight successfully completed its objectives and expanded the envelope from the first two flights,” Cooley added. The flight lasted 90 minutes, officials said.
“We have gathered a great deal of valuable data from the flight and will even learn from this mishap,” Cooley said. “Ultimately, that is the objective of any experiment and we’re pleased with the progress of the Low Cost Attritable Strike Demonstration program.”
The Air Force did not say how long it will take to investigate the setback, nor when officials can anticipate its fourth flight.
In partnership with Kratos Defense, the drone’s manufacturer, officials previously completed a second test in Yuma on June 11.
The Air Force has been working to expedite the prototype program, which in the near future could incorporate artificial intelligence. AFRL in recent months has also been working on the "Skyborg" program, aimed at pairing AI with a human in the cockpit.
The goal is to incorporate the Skyborg network into Valkyrie. The drone’s purpose would be to operate alongside manned fighters, so the machine can learn how to fly and even train with its pilot.
Valkyrie, a long-range, high-subsonic UAV, has incorporated a lot of lessons from Kratos' other subsonic drone, the Mako, according to Kratos Defense CEO and President Eric DeMarco.
"Mako continues to fly for various customers with all types of payloads," he said during an interview at the Paris air show in June. It was designed to carry electronic warfare or jamming equipment, infrared search and track sensors and offensive and defensive weapons, he said.
"Mako [is] a test bed, running a parallel path with the Valkyrie, so when the Valkyrie is ready, those payloads can more easily be ported over and integrated into Valkyrie because they've already been demonstrated in an unmanned platform," DeMarco said.
Dr. Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, said during the show that there's potential to field some Valkyrie UAVs quickly -- roughly 20 to 30 -- for experimentation before the service pairs manned fighters with the drone by 2023.
-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.