In early November, the 40th Flight Test Squadron (FLTS) of the 96th Test Wing at Eglin AFB, Florida, received its newest aircraft - the first of two government-owned Kratos XQ-58A Valkyries, which is scheduled to perform its first test flight from Eglin at the end of February 2023.
A low-cost, 30-foot-long uncrewed high performance air vehicle, the XQ-58A is a rocket launched from a rail system and can be controlled from either a ground operation station or an airborne fighter aircraft. The XQ-58A has software onboard capable to determine the best flight path and speeds to suit the commands from the ground station or fighter controlling it. It is one of a handful of air vehicles that the USAF is exploring to fulfil its future 'Loyal Wingman' capability requirements.
The 40th FLTS and its Autonomous Aircraft Experimentation (AAx) team are using the XQ-58A and the ranges of Eglin AFB for developmental ground and flight testing. This team will be able to exploit the communications support infrastructure on the ranges, which will allow engineers at the ground station to monitor the Valkyrie’s performance in test flights. On top of this, Eglin's ranges can host autonomous aircraft operations with airspace and safety processes developed especially to allow effective testing for any uncrewed air vehicles.
The AAx team will test autonomous aircraft partnership alongside the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL's) Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation Office. Leading the AAx team is Maj John Nygard, who commented on the platform's recent delivery to Eglin: “When you combine the XQ-58A with the Eglin range infrastructure, you get an uncrewed aircraft that enables real, open-air test of flight autonomy software capabilities while also proving out the resource requirements that could be used for future combat collaborative aircraft.”
Maj Nygard also stated that these tests are very time critical with a lot to achieve in a small amount of time. This comes as the AAx team aims to have the XQ-58A ready for experimentation of crewed-uncrewed teaming display solutions by Autumn 2023.