US Air Force sends software program updates to one in every of its oldest plane midair

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WASHINGTON — For the primary time, the U.S. Air Force up to date the software program code on one in every of its plane whereas it was in flight, the service introduced Oct. 7.

And there’s a shock twist: The plane concerned wasn’t the “flying computer” F-35, the mysterious B-21 bomber nonetheless below improvement, or any of the Air Force’s latest and most high-tech jets. Instead, the service examined the know-how aboard the U-2 spy aircraft, one of many oldest and most iconic plane within the Air Force’s stock.

On Sept. 22, the U-2 Federal Laboratory efficiently up to date the software program of a U-2 from the ninth Reconnaissance Wing, which was engaged in a coaching flight close to Beale Air Force Base, California, the Air Force mentioned in a information launch.

To push the software program code from the developer on the bottom to the U-2 in flight, the Air Force used Kubernetes, a containerized system that enables customers to automate the deployment and administration of software program functions. The know-how was initially created by Google and is presently maintained by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation.

For the demonstration, the U-2 lab employed Kubernetes to “run advanced machine-learning algorithms” to the 4 flight-certified computer systems onboard the U-2, modifying the software program with out negatively affecting the plane’s flight or mission methods, the service mentioned.

“The successful combination of the U-2′s legacy computer system with the modern Kubernetes software was a critical milestone for the development of software containerization on existing Air Force weapon systems,” mentioned Nicolas Chaillan, the Air Force’s chief software program officer.

During a Sept. 15 interview with C4ISRNET, Chaillan hinted that the service would quickly have the ability to replace the software program of flying plane, calling the potential a “gamechanger” and describing the challenges concerned with making certain the plane may very well be up to date with out posing a security danger.

“We need to decouple the flight controls, the [open-mission systems], all the air worthiness piece of the software from the rest of the mission [and] capability of [that] software so we can update those more frequently without disrupting or putting lives at risk when it comes to the flying piece of the jet or the system,” Chaillan mentioned then.

In its information launch, the Air Force didn’t elaborate on the character of the software program replace pushed to the U-2 or the way it was validated or how the plane was modified for the demonstration. A spokesperson for the ninth Reconnaissance Wing didn’t reply to questions from Defense News by press time.

Col. Heather Fox, ninth RW commander, mentioned the demonstration might pave the way in which for extra experiments utilizing the U-2 as a take a look at mattress for agile software program improvement actions.

“The integration of Kubernetes onto the U-2 capitalizes on the aircraft’s high-altitude line of sight and makes it even more survivable in a contested environment,” she mentioned. “We look forward to working with other platforms across the [Department of Defense] to export this incredible capability.”

The ninth RW is the one unit that operates the 33 U-2s owned by the Air Force. Although the plane first flew in 1955 — a full 65 years in the past — the small cadre of pilots that fly it have sought to protect its viability, and have taken an uncommon direct function in shaping plane enhancements and upgrades.

Members of the wing’s 99th Reconnaissance Squadron advised Defense News in 2017 about efforts to construct a stronger relationship with Silicon Valley, with members typically working instantly with the bottom’s contracting personnel to purchase off-the shelf items like Garmin watches or tablets, or signing agreements with main tech corporations to guage new merchandise.

The ninth RW additionally works carefully with the U-2 Federal Laboratory, which was established to develop new software program for the U-2 and take a look at it in a protected setting, in addition to with operators, software program coders and acquisitions professionals.

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