F-16s Begin Autonomous Flight Trials For U.S. Air Force VENOM Program

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The U.S. Air Force announced yesterday (April 3) that the first three F-16 fighters have arrived at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida for autonomous flight modifications.

The USAF 96th Test Wing and 53rd Wing accepted the Fighting Falcons for participation in the Viper Experimental and Next-gen Operations Model – Autonomy Flying Testbed (VENOM-AFT) program.

Maj. Ross Elder, VENOM developmental test lead, said, “This transformative program holds the potential to redefine air combat paradigms by fostering novel autonomous functions for current and future crewed and uncrewed platforms. We look forward to the culmination of years of engineering and collaboration, as VENOM leads a measured step towards a new age of aviation.”

The Air Force said that test flying for the initial stages of the VENOM program will involve pilots in the cockpit to monitor the autonomous technology and to ensure that objectives are met. The pilots will also provide feedback to the data-collection effort during modeling, simulation and post-flight phases to “ensure the autonomy is making the appropriate decisions prior to and during flight.”

Lt. Col. Joe Gagnon, commander of the 85th Squadron, said, “It’s important to understand the ‘human-on-the-loop’ aspect of this type of testing, meaning that a pilot will be involved in the autonomy in real time and maintain the ability to start and stop specific algorithms. There will never be a time where the VENOM aircraft will solely ‘fly by itself’ without a human component.”

Gagnon added, “Rapid tactical autonomy development focuses on ‘speed-to-ramp,’ meaning, go as fast as you can, safely, to ensure we get CCA flying as quickly as possible.”

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Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

7 COMMENTS

  1. “This transformative program holds the potential to redefine air combat paradigms by fostering novel autonomous functions for current and future crewed and uncrewed platforms.

    Jeez… I’ve been out of the Air Force for 45 years and out of government contracting for 25. I see they still feel the need to use multisyllabic words to try to make a point.

  2. There is a great future for you, my friend, if you can rewrite that paragraph in simple language without creating just a word salad.

  3. I sometimes share this with PR people: You’re basically using your CEO as the ventriloquist dummy for the words you write for them, so try to imagine them in a bar or at a ball game and someone asks, “So, what’s going on with your company?” Would they EVER actually use the words you wrote for them?

  4. Translation: This latest program has the capability to basically change the way air combat is conducted by developing new autonomous skills for both existing and future manned and unmanned systems.

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