The Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie experimental unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) completed its third flight as part of the Low Cost Attritable Strike Demonstration (LCASD) programme, but a landing mishap has damaged the aircraft.

The otherwise successful 90-minute flight, which took place on October 9 at the Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, continued to expand the UCAV's flight envelope, testing the demonstrator at higher altitudes and speeds. However, high surface winds and a malfunction in the Valkyrie's provisional flight test recovery system caused a mishap on landing, resulting in damage to the aircraft. The extent of the damage has not been detailed, but there were no injuries or other damage caused in the incident.

The XQ-58A Valkyrie is designed by Kratos Defense and Security Solutions. It has a V-shaped tail, S-shaped air intake, trapezoidal-shaped fuselage and chined edge – features commonly associated with stealth aircraft. 

Kratos XQ-58A Valkyrie
The XQ-58A Valkyrie (serial 15-8001) during its first flight. USAF/Senior Airman Joshua Hoskins

The XQ-58A has been produced for the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) under the LCASD programme, which itself falls under the Low Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology (LCAAT) portfolio. The aim of the project is to produce UCAVs capable of performing escort missions of fighter aircraft (F-22 Raptors and F-35 Lightning IIs in particular), known otherwise as the 'Loyal Wingman' concept. The idea is for a UCAV or a swarm of UCAVs to act as expendable wingmen, controlled by a parent fighter aircraft and being employed on tasks such as scouting and absorbing fire if the patrol is attacked.    

Maj Gen William Cooley, commander of the AFRL, said: "We continue to learn about this aircraft and the potential the technology can offer to the warfighter. This third flight successfully completed its objectives and expanded the envelope from the first two flights. We have gathered a great deal of valuable data from the flight and will even learn from this mishap. Ultimately, that is the objective of any experiment and we’re pleased with the progress of the Low Cost Attritable Strike Demonstration programme."

The Valkyrie's fourth test flight has been postponed with the aircraft grounded, pending the results of a safety investigation which is currently under way.