U-2 spy plane with AI at the controls takes off from Beale Air Force Base. (Source: U.S. Air Force)

Historic Pilotless U2 Spy Plane Flight Succeeds in Solo Test Mission in California

AI is now flying fighter jets. An exclusive article on popularmechanics.com details the first solo flight after over a million training runs.

On December 15, the United States Air Force successfully flew an AI copilot on a U-2 spy plane in California, a historic first for AI control of a U.S. military system. Dr. Will Roper, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, revealed how he and his team made history:

“Completing over a million training runs prior, the flight was a small step for the computerized copilot, but it’s a giant leap for ‘computerkind’ in future military operations.”

The U.S. military has struggled with advancing digital capabilities, from difficult-to-code computers and hard-to-access data—that ran the world’s most lethal hardware for the Air Force until recently.

Three years ago, the Air Force built the Pentagon’s first commercially-inspired development teams, coding clouds, and a combat internet that downed a cruise missile. The recent AI demo goes far beyond all of those accomplishments.

“With call sign ARTUµ, we trained µZero—a world-leading computer program that dominates chess, Go, and even video games without prior knowledge of their rules—to operate a U-2 spy plane. Though lacking those lively beeps and squeaks, ARTUµ surpassed its motion picture namesake in one distinctive feature: it was the mission commander, the final decision authority on the human-machine team. And given the high stakes of global AI, surpassing science fiction must become our military norm.”

The demo flew a reconnaissance mission simulating a missile strike at Beale Air Force Base on Tuesday. ARTUµ searched for enemy launchers while the pilot searched for threatening aircraft, sharing the U-2’s radar. With no pilot override, ARTUµ made final calls on devoting the radar to missile hunting versus self-protection.

“Luke Skywalker certainly never took such orders from his X-Wing sidekick!” Dr. Roper wrote.

A U-2 Dragon Lady assigned to the 9th Reconnaissance Wing takes off from the runway at Beale Air Force Base in California, Dec. 15, 2020. (Source: U.S. Air Force photographer A1C Luis A. Ruiz-Vazquez)

If you recall some of the fantastic acrobatics drones did in the last summer Olympics in China, then imagine where these planes and their AI algorithms will head to in the next decade.

read more at popularmechanics.com