Officials from the 412th Test Wing at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB), California, announced on July 30 that the US Air Force’s (USAF’s) Lockheed Martin NF-16D Variable In-flight Simulator Aircraft (VISTA) had been formally redesignated as the X-62A from June 14.
The VISTA – serial 86-0048 – is operated by the 416th Flight Test Squadron (FLTS)/Air Force Test Pilot School (TPS) and is supported by Calspan and Lockheed Martin. It first flew in 1992 and has been a staple of the TPS curriculum since. The platform has provided TPS students the ability to experience various flying conditions, including the simulation of other aircrafts’ characteristics.
William Gray, VISTA and TPS chief test pilot, said: “It has given almost a thousand students and staff members the opportunity to practice testing aircraft with dangerously poor flying qualities, and to execute risk-reduction flight test programmes for advanced technologies.”
Now known as the X-62A, the platform is currently undergoing an upgrade programme, which will fully replace the VISTA Simulation System (VSS). The system will be replaced with the System for Autonomous Control of Simulation (SACS) to support autonomy testing for the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL’s) Skyborg programme.
Skyborg is an autonomy focused capability, which will allow the USAF to operate and sustain low-cost, teamed aircraft that can thwart adversaries with quick, decisive actions in contested environments. The programme will enable airborne combat mass by building a transferable autonomy foundation for a family of layered, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). During the Skyborg effort, the AFRL will prototype a suite of autonomy and unmanned system technologies, equipped with capabilities that can support a range of air force missions.
Skyborg will not replace human pilots. Instead, it will provide them with key data to support rapid, informed decisions. In this manner, Skyborg will provide manned teammates with greater situational awareness and survivability during combat missions. Despite its use in the Skyborg effort, the X-62A (formerly NF-16D VISTA) will continue to serve as a TPS curriculum aircraft.