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Calspan to build autonomous dogfight test beds for DARPA

Calspan will fit four L-39 Albatros jet trainers with its own autonomous flight control system under DARPA’s Air Combat Evolution (ACE) program. Photo: Aero Vodochody

Buffalo, NY-based Calspan Corporation has been awarded a US$14.1 million, four-year contract by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to modify four Aero Vodochody L39 Albatros jet trainers as autonomous dog fighters. This contract will support DARPA’s full-scale air combat experimentation infrastructure for its Air Combat Evolution (ACE) program.

The overall focus of ACE is to develop and measure human trust in artificial intelligence (AI). The technologies developed within the ACE program will ultimately enable future pilots to confidently offload some high workload tactical tasks such as visual air-to-air engagements so they can better focus on managing the larger battlespace.

Under this contract Calspan Flight Research will modify up to four Aero Vodochody L-39 Albatros jet trainers with Calspan’s proprietary autonomous fly-by-wire flight control system technology to allow implementation and demonstration of advanced Human Machine Interfaces (HMI) and AI algorithms. Flight tests and demonstrations will be conducted from the Calspan Flight Research Facility at the Niagara Falls, NY International Airport and flown in the Misty Military Operating Area (MOA) over nearby Lake Ontario.

“Calspan is proud of our selection by DARPA to build an airborne air combat experimentation lab for the ACE program,” said Peter Sauer, Calspan President. The program presents an outstanding opportunity for Calspan to partner with DARPA for the use of its programmable flight control technology and provide a safe and flexible means to flight test these advanced algorithms, the company says.

The program will be conducted over three phases of development with Phase 1 beginning immediately.

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