US Air Force Completes Maiden Flight of XQ-67A Sensing Drone

The US Air Force has conducted the first flight of the XQ-67A off-board sensing drone in Palmdale, California.

XQ-67A is equipped with signals intelligence systems, a weapons bay, and infrared and electro-optical sensors to relay data on enemy activities and locations with allied, manned fighter jets while in flight.

The drone is powered by a single engine with a chassis design based on the Gambit family of long-endurance unmanned aerial systems.

XQ-67A developer General Atomics revealed the aircraft that was apparently “secretly being developed” for the US Department of Defense in February.

‘Collaborative Platform’

The agency wrote that the XQ-67A is part of a program led by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) to augment autonomous systems with mission payloads instead of replacing an aircraft for the same purpose.

“We had always intended from the start… to have multiple vehicle development spirals or threads of vehicle development,” AFRL Aerospace Systems Directorate’s Trenton White said.

“Then once the vehicle is proven ready, you can start integrating stuff with it, such as sensors, autonomy, weapons, payloads and electronics.”

Called “collaborative platforms,” systems being conceptualized under the initiative are intended “to provide warfighters with credible and affordable mass” by using a common chassis or “genus” method.

This means that the resulting drones can adapt to different capability concepts such as longer endurance, enhanced sensing, faster speeds, and better range.

“This approach will help save time and money by leveraging standard substructures and subsystems, similar to how the automotive industry builds a product line,” AFRL Autonomous Collaborative Platform Lead Doug Meador explained.

“From there, the genus can be built upon for other aircraft – similar to that of a vehicle frame – with the possibility of adding different aircraft kits to the frame, such as an Off-Board Sensing Station or Off-Board Weapon Station.”

AFRL’s XQ-67A Off Board Sensing Station, or OBSS, designed and built by General Atomics, took its maiden flight Feb. 28 from Gray Butte Field Airport, Palmdale, California. XQ-67A completed several test points and safely recovered on the first of a series of flight tests. The XQ-67A is the first of a second generation of autonomous collaborative platforms, or ACP.(Courtesy photo.)
XQ-67A Off Board Sensing Station drone. Photo: US Air Force

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