US Air Force Has Built and a Flown Full Scale Prototype Sixth Generation Fighter

The US Air force has built and flown a full-scale flight demonstrator of a sixth-generation fighter in the real world. The Air Force wants a system of systems that includes piloted and unmanned large drone aircraft. The approach is to take the latest functional technology and rapidly integrate them into working fighter planes. This is different from the 10-20 years of research on cutting edge technology and having delays and cost overruns.

The Air Force took one year to complete an analysis of alternatives and has proven it can use cutting-edge advanced manufacturing techniques and technologies to build a working plane.

The US Navy has a separate sixth-generation fighter program to replace its Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets. The Navy is creating nonstealth, fourth-generation fighters.

The Air Force Next Generation Air Dominance aircraft has about $1 billion in funding and they plan to spend $10 billion over the next five years.

They are using digital engineering to quickly go from design to production of small batches of jets that uses new emerging technology.

However, they will take emerging technology that is working as opposed to nascent technology that might work. It will be leading edge but not bleeding edge technology.

The working systems would then compete against the F-35 as options that can be scaled for volume purchases. This would be a welcome change where the latest off the shelf technology can be used. In theory, costs will be far lower and the best off the shelf technology for engines, materials and computers would be usable.

Currently, the latest F-35 often is often using 20-year-old technology. The Lockheed Martin F-35 joint strike fighter has been in development for 20 years. The average life spans of commercial electronics spare parts are three years or less. It is time-consuming and expensive to ensure that obsolete parts available for military weapons platforms. The US has to spends billions to stockpile old parts that are no longer used anywhere else.

In 2014, The B-52 had its first technology upgrade since 1961. They finally got color screens.

Ideally, they would move toward Tesla ability to provide over the air software updates and weekly to monthly incremental changes to manufacturing.

SOURCES- Defense News, Investors Business Daily
Written by Brian Wang,

32 thoughts on “US Air Force Has Built and a Flown Full Scale Prototype Sixth Generation Fighter”

  1. Uh, reading comprehension please?

    They didn't say a full up fighter prototype demoing the 5 techs, it's that a demonstrator(s) have been demoing the 5 core technology thrusts. Which means a surrogate craft, like those used for electronics testing, could cover most of that outside of an adaptive engine cycle engine demo.

  2. No one ever started a war just because the other side was prepared . . . and quite a few have been prevented because of this.

  3. Has any two planes ever been cheaper than the planes they replaced? Please finish the F-35 deployment. The cost of each additional F-35 is pretty cheap. Especially compared to the future cost of its replacement. By the way, a three year old electronic parts is just as obsolete as a 20 years part. A plane body and engine will last 30 years so the electronics will always end up obsolete. Design for pull in replacements.

  4. Hahaaaa Reminds me of that old Pascal unit (CRT) that crashed when proc frequency passed some X Mhzs. So I ended up running the software in DosBox.

  5. Would not surprise me if the prototype a fighter 1.5 times the size of the F22 with 2 of the F-35's engines. Such a plane would have a huge range and be able to carry a lot of missiles. Then add stealth, maneuverability, AI smarts to an extent, maybe a low power laser to blind incoming heat seekers.

  6. Maybe they can do faster design and mfg. They do it now with automobiles. But…and here's the real questions: What's the point of all this? Who's this aimed at? 

     Fascinating stuff, but there are other answers to the questions presumably solved by this tech, so in the end it's probably a waste.

  7. I was working for the Air Force about fifteen years back when I predicted there would eventually be a standard depot mod for the F-22 (and likely F-35) well before they reached the end of their expected operational life time (beginning somewhere around 2044 for the F-22), that would involve removing the cockpit. I see little reason to change that prediction.

    Given that the vast majority of AF general officers were former pilots (at the time it was pretty much all of them except for the top lawyer, doctor, nurse, etc.) and they rather vigorously opposed anything that would tend to reduce their hegemony (and probably still do) this was not something to be said very loudly.

    Keep in mind, plans for the F-22 began as early as 1981 and that the last F-22 was purchased in 2012. Due to increased costs, technical problems, and delays, there are only 186 of them, rather than the initially planned 381, and they have never yet reached their goal in terms of being mission capable. I think all of this strongly supports this new development process (at least over that used for the F-22).

    Even with the cockpit removed and replaced, I see little likelihood any fighter aircraft could ever be as capable as one initially designed to operate without one.

    Despite this, there will probably always be a need for a few high performance aircraft that can carry human beings, although there will likely be some question as to whether they are flying the aircraft, or the aircraft is flying them.

  8. It’s the government so you need to consider: Which method reduces regulatory/legislative capture and corruption the best?
    Having robust competition on short iterations is a big deterrence to the above.

  9. Yeah, I help maintain the control systems for printing presses where I work… It's an interesting mix of rather old mechanical hardware and new computers running virtual machines of old software.

    It can be a challenge to maintain it all.

  10. Machine tools that are well maintained, in a low production environment often get new axis motors, and control electronics because the mechanical parts, the most expensive parts are still good.

  11. Because a human pilot provides a hack proof processing unit. Drones still have loads of issues with electronic warfare. Going against guys in caves wearing sandals and turbans, fine, going against Russian or Chinese hackers with top of the line equipment, not so good.

  12. That was kind of my point – but the more important part being that they completely nix any risk of pilot loss, not to mention reducing all the life support, interaction controls and ejection mechanisms that take up a hefty amount of volume on the craft as well as weight which reduces maximum flight time and/or ordnance.

    Going unmanned probably also opens up more options for general design – ie allowing you to put the main engine where the pilot module usually is.

  13. Anyone who's ever had their laptop decide to do a 10 minute update in the middle of an important presentation is still gazing with baffled horror at the place in the report which suggested over the air software updates for military aircraft.

  14. Reiterating your point: "Ideally, they would move toward Tesla ability to provide over the air software updates and weekly to monthly incremental changes to manufacturing."

    Considering the Iranian's hijacked a US drone, I hope not.

  15. They seem to be transitioning towards unmanned for some time now.

    I would not expect 'warfighters' to actually be in the planes within a quarter century, if that.

  16. Why is anybody thinking in terms of a human pilot? I love the thought of being a pilot but for a military role… nothing but downside to limit a plane with a human.

  17. I don't think there's anything proving this method will actually be any cheaper than previous methods. If anything it might be even more expensive at lower effectiveness since you're doing small batch runs and one batch might be entirely different from another and cause even more decision paralysis because one batch might be good at some things while another might be good at others, which one do you choose for full scale production?

  18. Do you have any idea how big a security risk over-the-air-fighter-jet-software-updates are? Why not just wait a few hours until it lands?

    Programming for a F-35 isn’t like writing an iOS app. There are RULES.

  19. We've got some machine tools that are still running WinXP.

    We've told 'em they really need to think about updating, but that'll come only when the PC dies.

  20. Truth! There is a Pentium IV computer in the next cubicle and I bet there is a Pentium running Windows 98 not far from that. They are edge cases though. Most of the workstations are much newer and run Windows 10.

  21. This is a major step going from concept to actual product in a year with only several billion as opposed to tens of billions. Hopefully with this new method of testing and refining in simulations our warfighters will get the best of the best relatively quickly.

  22. "The average life spans of commercial electronics spare parts are three years or less."

    Not sure what this is referring to, maybe the upgrade cycle for larger companies? Because I work in IT and regularly work on equipment that is 15-20 years old and has been sitting in a dusty closet with little to no maintenance while running the entire time.

  23. OTA updates on war machines are not necessarily a great idea, since it increases the cyberattack surface inordinately, and I am not necessarily sure that this can be mitigated enough with crypto…

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