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AFRL XQ-58A Valkyrie expands flight envelope in fourth test

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – The Air Force Research Laboratory, along with partner Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, Inc., completed the successful fourth flight test of the XQ-58A Valkyrie low-cost unmanned air vehicle demonstrator Jan. 23, 2020, at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona.

During the test event, the Valkyrie demonstrator’s flight successfully met all of the test objectives, and the envelope was expanded beyond prior tests before safely landing in the Arizona dessert. According to AFRL XQ-58A Program Manager Michael Wipperman, flying at higher altitude allowed researchers to gather data in an operational environment more representative of real-world flight conditions. 

“Flying at this altitude helped us gather important data such as vehicle response to temperature and vibration, which will prepare us as we move toward our next flight test,” said Wipperman.

This test event represents a return-to-flight for the XQ-58A, which experienced a mishap upon landing after a successful 90-minute flight in October 2019. Following a Safety Investigation Board probe into the mishap, Wipperman says the resulting information was outbriefed to the convening authority, and the recommendations were taken and approved to ensure the success of this latest test.

“We’re very pleased with the outcome of this fourth flight test,” said Wipperman.” We were able to show recovery for a successful flight at even higher altitudes. Given that we have overcome these challenges, we have confidence that the aircraft can continue its progression into flying in more representative conditions.”

Developed as part of AFRL’s Low Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology portfolio, the XQ-58A is designed to be a runway-independent, reusable unmanned air vehicle capable of a broad range of operational missions. The XQ-58A was developed through low cost procurement and is designed to be significantly less expensive to operate than traditional piloted or unpiloted vehicles, while capable of achieving the same critical missions. Taking only 2.5 years from contract award to first flight, it is the first example of a class of unmanned air vehicles developed through this time-saving process, which seeks to break the escalating cost trajectory of tactically relevant aircraft.

A total of five flights are planned for the XQ-58A, with objectives that include evaluating system functionality, aerodynamic performance, and launch and recovery systems. The fifth flight, scheduled for later this year, will be a capability demonstration showcasing the ability of the vehicle to support operational needs.