The U.S. Air Force began demonstrating the next generation of air combat training and testing aircraft last week, completing the first flight of a converted F-16 jet with no pilot in the cockpit.
(QF-16 takes off remotely piloted at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. Photo, courtesy of Master Sergeant J. Scott Wilcox.)
The QF-16 Full Scale Aerial Target, a retired F-16 jet modified to fly as an unmanned aircraft system (UAS), completed a series of simulated maneuvers, including supersonic flight, prior to landing autonomously. The QF-16 is the result of a 2010 $70 million Department of Defense (DoD) contract awarded to Boeing to convert six early-generation F-16 jets into full-scale aerial targets.
To convert the F-16 to a remotely piloted aircraft, Boeing installs new electronic control equipment that allows the jet to be operated via data links from a ground control station.
“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.”
By converting retired F-16 jets to the QF-16 configuration, Boeing allows fighter pilots to train against actual fighter jets with live weapons. The development could also lead to production of unmanned fighter jets remotely piloted from the ground.
Related: Unmanned Systems News