DARPA awards contract to retrofit L-39 trainers for AI dogfighting tests

Date 10.7.2020

Calspan Corporation has been awarded a $14.1M, four-year contract by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop 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 like 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. Louis Knotts, Calspan Owner and CEO added “Since 1947, Calspan has been the world’s premier innovator, developer, and operator of in-flight simulators and UAV surrogates. This program presents an outstanding opportunity for Calspan to partner with DARPA for the use of our programmable flight control technology and provide them with a safe and flexible means to flight test these advanced algorithms.”

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

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