The QF-16, a retired F-16 fighter jet converted into an aerial target for U.S. military personnel to use in training and weapons testing, flew without a pilot for the first time last week, prime contractor Boeing announced Sept. 23.
Two Air Force pilots controlled the QF-16 from a ground station during the Sept. 19 event at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. The aircraft flew to 40,000 feet, achieved supersonic speeds and engaged in aerial maneuvers, such as a barrel roll.
“It was a little different to see it without anyone in it, but it was a great flight all the way around,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Ryan Inman, commander of the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron. “It’s a replication of current, real-world situations and aircraft platforms they can shoot as a target.”
View a video of the flight here.
The QF-16’s first manned flight took place in May 2012. More flights are planned, including a “live-fire” exercise at Hollomon Air Force Base, N.M.
Boeing has so far modified six F-16s into QF-16s after retrieving them from storage at Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. In 2010, the Air Force awarded Boeing a contract to produce up to 126 QF-16s.
The Air Force, Army and Navy all plan to include QF-16s in training and weapons testing. The U.S. military has been using even older jets -- modified F-4 fighters -- for such activities.
"The QF-4 did a good job for many years, but it's time to turn the page in the aerial target program," Inman said. "This program will bring us into the fourth-generation aircraft, and will provide us with a mission-capable, very sustainable aerial target to take us into the next 10 to 20 years."
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