Successful attritableONE (XQ-58 Valkyrie) return to flight test enables formation flight with fifth-generation fighters

The Air Force Research Laboratory, along with partner Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, Inc., completed the successful fifth flight test of the XQ-58A Valkyrie low-cost unmanned air vehicle demonstrator on Dec. 9, 2020, at Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz.

During the test event, an F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning, the Air Force’s two fifth-generation fighters formed up off the wings of the smaller Valkyrie as it continued to fly autonomously in formation. This is a major milestone in the service’s efforts to provide low cost force multipliers in relevant operational environments.

“The experiments today [Dec. 9] represent what can be accomplished with the collaboration of industry, the Air Force Test Center, the acquisition community and AFRL,” said Brig. Gen. Heather Pringle, AFRL commander. “This was just a first step at demonstrating the potential of the force multiplier effects of attritable aircraft in a manned/unmanned environment.”

The Valkyrie met 80% of the overall flight test objectives with 100 percent of the formation flying objectives being met before safely landing in the Arizona desert, according to AFRL XQ-58A Program Manager, Michael Wipperman.

A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor and F-35A Lightning II fly in formation with the XQ-58A Valkyrie low-cost unmanned aerial vehicle over the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground testing range, Ariz., during a series of tests Dec. 9, 2020. This integrated test follows a series of gatewayONE ground tests that began during the inaugural Department of the Air Force on-ramp last year in December. (Courtesy photograph)

“As the ABMS attritableONE Product Lead and XQ-58 Valkyrie AFRL Program Manager, I’m proud of the partnership with AFLCMC, the Air Force Test Center, and our Air Force Acquisition and industry partners, and the team’s ability to go from concept to demonstration in six months,” said Wipperman. “This was the fifth successful launch of the Valkyrie, but the first time the platform has integrated a new warfighting capability payload and flown in formation with an F-22 and F-35.”

Wipperman added, “The XQ-58A modularity and ability to carry robust payloads enabled the rapid capability integration into an attritable experimentation vehicle. We’re thrilled with the seamless integration and demonstration of this flight. We look forward to continued capability enhancement at future demonstrations.”

Developed by Kratos Defense & Security Solutions and AFRL as part of the latter’s Low Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology portfolio, the XQ-58A is designed to be a runway-independent, re-usable unmanned air vehicle capable of a broad range of operational missions. The XQ-58A 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 two and a half 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.

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