Boeing, USAF Complete First Unmanned QF-16 Flight

 - September 23, 2013, 3:28 PM
Boeing and the U.S. Air Force achieved the first flight of an unmanned QF-16 aerial target on September 19. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

Boeing and the U.S. Air Force completed the first flight of an unmanned QF-16 aerial target from Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., on September 19. Flown by two Air Force test pilots in a ground station, the modified Lockheed Martin F-16 reached an altitude of 40,000 feet and a speed of Mach 1.47. It performed aerial maneuvers including a barrel roll over the Gulf of Mexico while pulling more than 7Gs.

“It was a little different to see an F-16 take off without anyone in it, but it was a great flight all the way around,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Inman, commander of the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron.

The QF-16 is the next-generation full-scale aerial target the U.S. military will use to test new weapons and tactics. It will replace the QF-4, an F-4 Phantom fighter that BAE Systems converts into a target drone. Last November, BAE announced the delivery of the 300th converted QF-4 to the Air Force. The company planned to deliver 14 more QF-4s this year.

The Air Force awarded Boeing a multi-year contract in 2010 to begin engineering and manufacturing development of up to 126 QF-16s. Under the initial award, Boeing modified six F-16s to the QF-16 configuration. The program accomplished the first manned flight of a QF-16 at Boeing’s Cecil Field in Florida on May 4, 2012.

The first unmanned flight will be followed by more operational evaluations, including a live fire test at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. Low-rate initial production of the QF-16 is scheduled to begin in the fourth quarter, with first production deliveries in 2015, Boeing said.