XQ-58A Valkyrie combat drone returns to flight after landing mishap
The jet-powered XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrator drone has returned to the air three months after being damaged in a landing mishap. On January 23, the unmanned aircraft being developed by the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and Kratos Defense & Security Solutions completed its fourth flight test at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona.
The fourth in a planned schedule of five flights, the most recent test was designed to push the performance envelope of the Valkyrie. In particular, the flight took the drone to its highest altitude yet as engineers collected information on the vehicle's response to temperature and vibrations under conditions very similar to those found in operational flight. According to AFRL, all of the test objectives were met.
On October 9, 2019, the Valkyrie was grounded after a landing mishap at the end of a 90-minute flight. A safety Investigation Board found that the problem was with the drone’s provisional flight test recovery system and high surface winds during the final descent. Following the board's recommendations, the XQ-58A was once again cleared for flight.
The Valkyrie program is intended to demonstrate that is it possible to develop a combat drone from contract award to first flight in only 2.5 years, and with significantly lower building and operating costs.
The Valkyrie is a runway-independent, high-subsonic unmanned air vehicle. With its V-tail, central air intake, and trapezoidal fuselage for a stealth profile, it's part of an effort to develop combat drones that can act as escorts for F-22 or F-35 fighters as well as a surveillance and attack platform – both independently or as part of a UAV swarm.
The 29-ft (9 m) long Valkyrie has a wingspan of 22 ft (6.7 m), a top speed of 567 knots (652 mph, 1,050 km/h), a service ceiling of 44,997 ft (13,715 m), and a range of 2,128 nm (2,449 mi, 3,941 km). It can carry eight weapons, including JDAMs and other small diameter bombs.
The fifth and final flight is slated for later this year and will concentrate on the Valkyrie's ability to support operational needs.
"We’re very pleased with the outcome of this fourth flight test," says AFRL XQ-58A Program Manager Michael Wipperman. "We were able to show recovery for a successful flight at even higher altitudes. Given that we have overcome these challenges, we have confidence that the aircraft can continue its progression into flying in more representative conditions."