The US Air Force has conducted the maiden sortie of the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) XQ-67A unmanned air vehicle, another step on the road to developing low-cost, ‘attritable’ aircraft.

The flight took place on 28 February at GA-ASI’s flight operations facility near Palmdale, California, according to the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).


Source: US Air Force

Development of the XQ-67A builds on previous work into ‘attritable’ platforms 

It provided no details as to the duration of the flight or activities performed while airborne, but an image provided shows the aircraft – also designated the Off-Board Sensing Station, or OBSS – flying with its landing gear extended.

According to the AFRL the aircraft represents a second generation of ‘autonomous collaborative platforms’, and follows on from the Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie. The ultimate objective is to produce autonomous aircraft at low cost, which can support manned platforms.

The AFRL says that the XQ-67A provides a common chassis or “genus”, allowing for a standardisation of airframes, but with the ability to quickly integrate different capabilities.

“This approach will help save time and money by leveraging standard substructures and subsystems, similar to how the automotive industry builds a product line,” says Doug Meador of the AFRL’s Aerospace Systems Directorate.

“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.”

Meador adds that the XQ-67A OBSS builds on previous work on Low Cost Attritable Aircraft Technologies (LCAAT).

Starting in the mid-2010s, LCAAT work resulted in the definition for the Low Cost Attritible Strike Demonstrator, which ultimately led the team to define, build, and test the XQ-58 in 2019.


Source: US Air Force

The XQ-67A is part of a broad effort to develop and field collaborative combat aircraft

“The first generation was XQ-58, and that was really about proving the concept that you could build relevant combat capability quickly and cheaply,” says Trenton White of the AFRL.

“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.”

The XQ-67A was rolled out in early February. In response to an inquiry by FlightGlobal, the company confirms that the OBSS platform will be remotely piloted, rather than autonomous.

General Atomics is believed to be among the five aerospace manufacturers selected by the USAF to develop autonomous fighter jets – known as collaborative combat aircraft – that will team with the service’s eventual sixth-generation combat fighter.