As a pilotless F-16 roared into the sky last week at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., members of Boeing’s QF-16 team and the U.S. Air Force celebrated.
The flight represented the first unmanned QF-16 Full Scale Aerial Target flight. Put another way, fighter pilots now have an adversary for which to train against that prepares them like never before.
Two U.S. Air Force test pilots in a ground control station at Tydall remotely flew the QF-16, which is a retired F-16 jet modified to be an aerial target. While in the air, the QF-16 mission included a series of simulated maneuvers, reaching supersonic speeds, returning to base and landing, all without a pilot in the cockpit.
“It was a little different to see it without anyone in it, but it was a great flight all the way around,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Ryan Inman, Commander, 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron. “It’s a replication of current, real world situations and aircraft platforms they can shoot as a target. Now we have a 9G capable, highly sustainable aerial target.”
Prior to the QF-16, the military used a QF-4 aircraft, which was a modification of the F-4 Phantom, a Vietnam-era fighter The modified QF-16 provides pilots a target that performs closer to many jets flying today.
The QF-16s were all retired aircraft. Boeing retrieved them from Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona and restored them for flight.
Next up, live fire testing moves to Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. The military will ultimately use QF-16s for weapons testing and other aerial training.
So far, Boeing has modified six F-16s into the QF-16 configuration.