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General Atomics, US Air Force Research Lab successfully test XQ-67 Off-Board Sensing Station

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) successfully completed the first flight of the XQ-67A Off-Board Sensing Station for the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) program and GA-ASI was selected in 2021 to design, build, and fly the new aircraft.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) successfully completed the first flight of the XQ-67A Off-Board Sensing Station for the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) program and GA-ASI was selected in 2021 to design, build, and fly the new aircraft.

The XQ-67A is an evolution of the XQ-58A Valkyrie, a second generation of autonomous collaborative platforms or ACP as a “proof of concept” design for a common chassis or “genus” approach to uncrewed air vehicle design, build, and test and evaluation.

Doug Meador, autonomous collaborative platform capability lead with AFRL’s Aerospace Systems Directorate, said, “This approach will help save time and money by leveraging standard substructures and subsystems, similar to how the automotive industry builds a product line.

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“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 (OBSS) or Off-Board Weapon Station (OBWS),” Meador added.

This new approach also responds to the challenge of great power competition by speeding delivery of affordable, advanced capability to the warfighter.

Trenton White, OBSS program manager and aerospace engineer in AFRL’s Aerospace Systems Directorate, added, “This provides an alternative acquisition approach for military aircraft that enables faster development, lower costs and more opportunities for frequent technology refresh. XQ-67A is the first ‘species’ to be designed and built from this shared platform. Flight demonstration of this system is a major first step toward showing the ability to produce affordable combat mass.”

In late 2014 and early 2015, the initial years of the LCAAT initiative, the team began with some in-house designs, for which Meador credits White who led the studies early on that evolved into the requirements definition for the Low Cost Attritable Strike Demonstrator (LCASD), a Joint Capability Technology Demonstration.

The LCASD team defined, designed, built, and tested the XQ-58 for the first time in 2019.

The OBSS program built upon the low-cost capability that LCASD proved by leveraging design and manufacturing technology research which had taken place since the first generation and was directed to reduce risk in the development of future generations.

White added, “We had always intended from the start of LCAAT to have multiple vehicle development spirals or threads of vehicle development. Then once the vehicle is proven ready, you can start integrating stuff with it, such as sensors, autonomy, weapons, payloads and electronics.”

XQ-67A has been just over two years in the making, moving quickly through the design, build, and fly process. While the team initially worked with five industry vendors, AFRL decided at the end of 2021 to exercise the opportunity to build the General Atomics design.

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