Jet-powered drone can fly at more than 1,100kph

US Air Force hopes fleets of AI-guided drones will soon be operational

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A US defence contractor has released remarkable footage of a jet-powered drone capable of flying more 1,100 kilometres an hour.

The UTAP-22 Mako is guided by artificial intelligence, say its designers Kratos Defence and Security Solutions.

The drone's two-hour test flight was part of a US Air Force plan called Skyborg. This aims to use swarms of unmanned jet aircraft to accompany stealth planes, flying autonomously alongside them using the Skyborg autonomy core system computer (ACS).

They can also take commands from a pilot through an encrypted datalink, flying alongside as "loyal wingmen".

The ACS is supposed to enable the drones to learn how to fly alongside manned aircraft, mimicking how human pilots fly. This could boost stealth mission reconnaissance and firepower.

The first version of the UTAP-22 was developed long before this technology was available. Like many combat drones, it was initially developed as an aircraft to be used as target practice.

A similar test was conducted in May, according to the US Air Force, in which the ACS “demonstrated basic aviation capabilities and responded to navigational commands".

The drone also demonstrated "co-ordinated manoeuvring" with the manned aircraft, the US Air Force said.

A newer version of the drone, which will incorporate stealth technology – the XQ-58 Valkyrie – is also being tested to use ACS alongside US aircraft such as the F-35 stealth fighter.

The US Air Force hopes the Valkyrie will be able to sustain operations with an altitude of 50,000 feet.

Updated: September 21, 2021, 11:00 AM