After months of development, assembly, and test, the XQ-67A has received its official “X” designation from the U.S. Air Force.
The glorious history of American “X-Planes” is a rundown of some of the most thrilling achievements of post-World War II aviation. The series began with the Bell X-1 – first to break the sound barrier, under the controls of then-Capt. Chuck Yeager – ran through the hypersonic X-15 – which was flown by aviators including NASA test pilot Neil Armstrong – and continues down to this day.
X-Craft are selected by the Air Force or another aeronautical authority to help prove out new concepts, test new technology, or enable research into the newest frontiers of aviation. Although some of the best-known specimens were built to test high speeds, that’s not always the parameter of interest: the Bensen X-25A gyrocopter, for example, had a maximum speed of 80 miles per hour. What the Air Force wanted from it and similar programs was to see what the aerospace technology of the moment could make possible for a specific application.
The XQ-67A also is focused on pushing the limits. The technology involved is highly complex but the concept, at least, is simple: maximize the capabilities of a human pilot at the controls of an F-22 Raptor or F-35 Lightning II or newer fighter.
For example, if a single human-piloted fighter had three or five or more unmanned wingmen scouting out ahead, that would greatly expand the amount of airspace the pilot could monitor or control. And this wouldn’t require the cost or time associated with building more highly intricate human-crewed air superiority fighters or recruiting and training human pilots.
Uninhabited systems are comparatively cheaper. They can be built in large quantities, which means they can be fielded in large numbers, generating what combat tacticians call “mass.” Unmanned aircraft put a barrier between human combat aircrews and hostile threats. And when working in large numbers to augment and extend the capacity of human aircrews for the Air Force, its partners and allies, these unmanned combat aircraft enable all-new capabilities — ones set to revolutionize airpower.
That’s the vision. The way to achieve it is by taking individual steps to prove out what today’s technology enables for unmanned air combat applications and then connect them to new steps, and new technology, aimed at the goal.
The XQ-67A OBSS
That’s what the XQ-67A does. As a test platform, the aircraft will give test pilots, operations planners, tacticians and others a real, live unmanned combat air system for experimentation. Crews will assess and evaluate the best ways to use the aircraft, how it lets them operate differently, and what a future program might require.
As the world leader in unmanned aviation, GA-ASI is developing its own vision for a series of new combat aircraft to guarantee an unbroken run of American and allied air superiority. It’s called the Gambit Series – a family of four highly common and easily producible aircraft that quickly and effectively addresses the Air Force’s need for low-cost mass and high degrees of autonomous combat capability.
With more than 1,100 aircraft delivered and more than 8 million operational hours – many of them recorded in combat – GA-ASI has more experience in building uninhabited combat aircraft than any other company. It’s also the leader in the newest frontiers of autonomy.
GA-ASI’s own MQ-20 Avenger jet aircraft have been paving the way for advancements in autonomy, artificial intelligence and machine learning for years, and conduct the most advanced integrated autonomous combat testing in the world today. They have proven over and over, on their own and in collaboration with other uncrewed and human-flown aircraft (as well as virtual ones created for simulated dogfights) that the vision for networked, autonomous combat air dominance is valid and technically sound.