Military Aviation

NF-16D VISTA redesignated as the X-62A to be used for testing Skyborg program

The NF-16D Variable In-flight Simulator Aircraft (VISTA) has been redesignated as the X-62A, effective Jun. 14, 2021.

The NF-16D Variable In-flight Simulator Aircraft (VISTA) has been redesignated as the X-62A, effective Jun. 14, 2021.

As explained by By Giancarlo Casem, 412th Test Wing Public Affairs, in the article NF-16D VISTA becomes X-62A, the X designation denotes aircraft that are designed for testing configurations of a radical nature. X aircraft are not normally intended for use as tactical aircraft. Following its redesignation to X-62A, VISTA now joins a storied family of aircraft such as the Bell X-1, the first airplane to break the sound barrier, and the hypersonic, rocket-powered North American X-15, which holds the record as the fastest manned aircraft.

“For more than two decades VISTA has been a vital asset for the USAF TPS and the embodiment of our goal to be part of the cutting edge of flight test and aerospace technology,” said William Gray, VISTA and TPS chief test pilot. “It has given almost a thousand students and staff members the opportunity to practice testing aircraft with dangerously poor flying qualities, and to execute risk-reduction flight test programs for advanced technologies.”

“The redesignation reflects the research done on the aircraft over the past almost 30 years, as well as acknowledges the major upgrade program that is ongoing to support future USAF autonomy testing,” said Dr. Chris Cotting, USAF TPS director of research.

Throughout its life, VISTA has received numerous upgrades and modifications and is currently in the midst of another upgrade program which will fully replace the VISTA Simulation System (VSS). The upgrade program will also add a new system called the System for Autonomous Control of Simulation (SACS) to support autonomy testing for the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Skyborg program.

Skyborg is an autonomy-focused capability that will enable the Air Force to operate and sustain low-cost, teamed aircraft that can thwart adversaries with quick, decisive actions in contested environments. The program will enable airborne combat mass by building a transferable autonomy foundation for a family of layered, unmanned air vehicles. Skyborg will not replace human pilots. Instead, it will provide them with key data to support rapid, informed decisions. In this manner, Skyborg will provide manned teammates with greater situational awareness and survivability during combat missions.

VISTA (a Fighting Falcon, with serial number 86-0048), started life as a Block 30 F-16D. The aircraft which is operated by the US Air Force Test Pilot School (USAF TPS) with the support of Calspan and Lockheed Martin, first flew in 1992 and has been a staple of the TPS curriculum.

VISTA is the only one of its kind in the world and is the flag-ship of the USAF TPS. It’s has been highly modified, allowing pilots to change the aircraft’s flight characteristics and stability to mimic that of other aircraft.

VISTA is all about a variable stability aircraft that is conceived as a real flying device that will permit in-flight variation of the flying qualities of an airplane. This, in order for pilots to determine the suitability of the special flight characteristics and stability during an actual flight.

VISTA was originally given the N prefix to denote its status as Special Test, Permanent. The N prefix indicates aircraft on a special test program whose configuration is so drastically changed that return to its original configuration or conversion to standard operational configuration is beyond practicable or economic limits.

“We have found ways to use VISTA that were not envisioned by the original designers, so we were running into frustrating limitations,” Gray said. “The modifications will address these limitations and profoundly improve our ability to quickly and safely test an almost unlimited variety of radical control law configurations. Even so, the X-62A will continue to serve as a curriculum aircraft, and will be an even brighter symbol of our aspirations.”

“VISTA will serve as one of the main assets of the newly-created Research Division at USAF TPS,” Cotting said. “As part of the upgrade program, VISTA has been redesignated from the NF-16D VISTA to the X-62A VISTA, making USAF TPS the only test pilot school with an active X plane supporting its curriculum.”

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-16D Fighting Falcon 19th Air Force, 56th Fighter Wing, 310th Fighter Squadron “Tophats”, LF/88-0175 – Luke AFB, AZ – 2011

Photo credit: Christian Turner and Cynthia Griggs / U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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