Advanced capabilities earns aerospace excellence

  • Published
  • By Samuel King Jr.

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics recently selected the 40th Flight Test Squadron’s Advanced Capabilities Division the 2024 Aerospace Excellence Award.

This relatively new 96th Test Wing unit that began in April 2023, is responsible for artificial intelligence and autonomy-based experimental aircrafts at Eglin.

“This award is a culmination of tireless hours by a collaboration of military, government, industry, and academic partners.  Together the team has achieved remarkable accomplishments in such a short time, and I could not be prouder,” said Maj. Ross Elder, Advanced Capabilities Division Chief.  “This division is truly leading the projects that will carry the Air Force into the future, and this is just the beginning.”

The AIAA awarded the unit for its milestone work last year with the XQ-58A Valkyrie and the first-ever AI-enabled, high-performance, uncrewed air vehicle flight.

Using neural networks developed and trained through reinforcement learning, the team demonstrated autonomy algorithms controlling an uncrewed XQ-58A to perform aviation, navigation, and air-to-air combat operations. 

To accomplish that feat, the team developed safety protocols and constructed an autonomy development framework to discover, design, develop and deploy autonomy-enabled systems on crewed and uncrewed platforms.

The first demonstration was a proof of concept that allowed for further testing to begin for the Air Force and most recently the U.S. Marine Corps. 

The XQ-58 program is only a piece of the ACD’s mission.

The team’s portfolio includes Collaborative Combat Aircraft development, human-machine teaming, rapid tactical autonomy and artificial intelligence, digital test environments, and multi-domain operations.

Of note, the division is the executing test organization for the Viper Experimentation and Next-gen Operations Model – Autonomy Flying Testbed program, designed and funded to accelerate testing of autonomy software on crewed F-16 aircraft.