Key point: Or is this all just hype?
What’s not to like about a robot wingman?
There’s a lot of buzz about the first flight of an unmanned U.S. Air Force drone, designed to accompany manned combat aircraft into battle, that many believe will herald a new age of aerial warfare.
Looking at a photo of the XQ-58A Valkyrie, and it’s easy to believe that something has changed. Today’s drones, such as the MQ-9 Reaper, are goofy-looking airplanes with fat noses, old-fashioned propellers and a cruising speed not much faster than a Cessna prop job. But with its twin tail, curved fuselage and a jet engine that propels it to near-supersonic speed, the XQ-58A looks like a smaller F-35 stealth fighter.
This is not your daddy’s drone.
The XQ-58A, designed by Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems, performed its maiden flight on March 5 at the Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona. “Developed for runway independence, the aircraft behaved as expected and completed 76 minutes of flight time,” according to an Air Force announcement. A total of five flights are planned for the Valkyrie, which is part of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Low Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology (LCAAT), which aims to develop cheap, expendable drones with sufficient performance to pair up—and be controlled—by combat jets.