In-Flight Simulator Aircraft


Calspan’s fleet of Learjet In-Flight Simulators (IFS) are routinely utilized as effective Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) surrogates. These modified aircraft have two unique abilities:

  • They use a proprietary programmable Fly-by-Wire Flight Control System, so their flying qualities can be manipulated to emulate those of the system under development
  • They can be utilized as a testbed for the developmental UAS data links, sensors and auxiliary systems.

The Calspan modified Learjet provides a safe way to test developmental Group III - Group V UAS by providing a fully programmable flight control system, capable of Remote Pilot Actuation or even Artificial Intelligence (AI) control, while an on-board safety pilot stands ready to take control in case of a link loss or other anomalous event. Using the Learjets as UAV Surrogates reduces developmental program risk and verifies/validates the developmental UAS’s flight control laws and system functionality with the benefit of an onboard safety observer. 

Calspan Learjets have been instrumental in the development of U.S. Air Force and Navy Autonomous Aerial Refueling and Sense and Avoid programs. They have also been used to develop Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) concepts of operations in experimental scenarios, wherein the fly-by-wire flight control system enabled multiple Learjet UAS Surrogates to operate as wingmen to constructive aircraft flown by an Artificial Intelligence system, under the lead of a virtual aircraft flown by a live pilot in a simulator.  


The capabilities of our UAV Surrogacy team include:

  • Integrating UAV systems with a programmable, full authority Fly-by-Wire flight control system to provide closed-loop aircraft control.
    • Safely testing developmental UAV flight control systems in a manned UAV surrogate
    • On-board safety pilot monitoring aircraft performance, ready to take control at the push of a button
    • FAA/National Airspace System restriction avoidance 
    • Automatic safety trip system monitors aircraft states to prevent excursions beyond structural limits 
    • Safely testing UAV systems’ high-risk flight regimes under autonomous control
      • Landing approach to touchdown
      • Formation flight
      • Aerial refueling to contact position
  • Live, Virtual, Constructive Demonstrations during Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) Experiments.
    • Can safely and efficiently conduct Research, Development Test & Evaluation (RDT&E) early in development delivering significant risk reduction
    • Use as a proving ground for UAV/UAS integration for manned/unmanned teaming 
  • Using production or prototype hardware and/or host algorithms within Calspan’s aircraft computers.
    • Validating Control Station connectivity
    • Validating UAV Satellite Communications
    • Exploring / Expanding UAV flight envelopes
Recent Programs

Recent programs that Calspan Aerospace UAV surrogates have supported include:

  • DARPA/Dynetics Gremlins program with piloted Calspan Learjet
  • Autonomous Aerial Refueling (AAR)
    • Boom/Receptacle for U.S. Air Force
    • Probe/Drogue for U.S. Navy
  • U.S. Air Force Sense and Avoid (SAA)
  • Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) curriculum development for the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School.


Calspan customers that engage our expertise in UAV Surrogacy receive innumerable benefits, including:

  • Flying piloted maneuvers to check out sensors and control laws for data gathering and as a buildup to closed-loop control by the UAV system
  • Ample space for multiple flight test engineers inside the aircraft during flight test events
  • Choosing where the flight test is conducted
    • We can ferry our UAV surrogates to a designated flight test location or customer facility
    • Calspan also has an 80,000 sq. ft. hangar in Niagara Falls, NY, which provides:
      • Space for control room or ground station
      • Access to dedicated airspace for flight test missions
      • Robust facilities and technicians to perform aircraft modifications and equipment installation
      • Office space for flight test engineers