AI Flew a Fighter Jet for 17 Hours

This marked the first time a bot took control of a military jet.

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Andy Altman
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Add "fly a military fighter jet" to the list of tasks AI can accomplish. 

The Defense Department revealed last week that artificial intelligence flew a jet similar to an F-16 for 17 total hours over 12 flights. The series of flights happened in December at Edwards Air Force Base in California, using an experimental plane called the X-62A Vista.

The jet was under the control of one of four different AI algorithms at any given time during the tests (though there were safety pilots on board at all times). This included dogfighting in simulated combat missions, as well as takeoffs and landings. Watch the video above to learn more about the AI-driven flights and the X-62A.

Lockheed Martin Vista X-62A aircraft in flight

The X-62A is an experimental jet based on the F-16.

Lockheed Martin

It's not unusual for any aircraft, whether it's a fighter plane or jumbo passenger jet, to fly with an autopilot system engaged. In most cases these systems navigate their course using GPS, similar to how your smartphone guides you. But engaging in aerial combat against an adversary is something completely different. Lockheed Martin, which designed the jet, says it marks the first time AI has "engaged on a tactical aircraft."

The research is part of a joint project between the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the US Air Force to advance autonomous flight technologies.

Though no new similar tests have been announced, the DOD says the team "will continue leveraging the X-62 to test and evaluate autonomy capabilities and uncrewed vehicle models."

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