Man vs. Machine: DARPA's AI Pilot Engages in Aerial Dogfight with Human Opponent


DARPA's AI Pilot Takes to the Skies: The Future of Autonomous Air Combat

In a groundbreaking development, an AI test pilot has successfully flown a jet fighter in simulated dogfights against human opponents, marking a significant milestone for DARPA's Air Combat Evaluation (ACE) program. The program aims to develop trusted aerospace AI agents capable of performing safely and autonomously in real-world scenarios.

The AI pilot took control of the X-62A Variable Stability In-Flight Simulator Test Aircraft (VISTA), a modified two-seater F-16D (Block 30) with a 32-year history at the US Air Force Test Pilot School. The X-62A has been used to simulate the flight characteristics of various aircraft, providing invaluable training opportunities for nearly a thousand students and staff members.

DARPA's AI agent flew the X-62A in 17 hours of test flights starting in December 2022, with human pilots onboard to monitor and intervene if necessary. By September 2023, the program had completed 21 test flights, including the first-ever AI versus human aerial engagement within visual range.

During this period, the team made an astonishing 100,000 lines of flight-critical software changes, demonstrating an unprecedented rate of development in the field of autonomous systems. While the dogfight itself is an impressive feat, Chief Test Pilot William Gray emphasizes that it is just the beginning of what AI can achieve in autonomous systems.

"Dogfighting was the problem to solve so we could start testing autonomous artificial intelligence systems in the air, but every lesson we're learning applies to every task we can give to an autonomous system," Gray stated.

The success of DARPA's ACE program represents a significant step forward in the development of AI-controlled aircraft and the potential for autonomous systems to revolutionize various aspects of aviation. As the technology continues to advance, it is clear that the future of air combat will involve an increasing reliance on AI pilots working alongside their human counterparts.