DISPATCHES FROM THE FRONT LINE OF AEROSPACE TECHNOLOGY
SUDDENLY, WINGMAN DRONES ARE EVERYWHERE
IN EARLY MARCH 2019 the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) conducted the first test flight of a new, inexpensive unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that could form the basis of a low-observable robotic wingman for manned aircraft. The XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrator, built by California-based Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems, flew for the first time over Yuma, Arizona on March 5, AFRL announced.
Since 2016, several types of wingman drones have begun development in no fewer than four countries. The concept is catching on fast.
The Valkyrie is the flying component of AFRL’s Low-Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology program, which the research laboratory began working on in earnest in July 2016. That’s when AFRL awarded Kratos a $41-million contract to work alongside the lab to design and demonstrate what the government described as a ‘high-speed, long-range, low-cost, limitedlife strike unmanned aerial system’.