US Air Force starts building QF-16 fleet

With the delivery of the first production QF-16 to Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, the US Air Force has started to build a fleet of new aerial targets to replace its old QF-4s. The QF-16 is the first of production Lot 1 of 13 aircraft, and arrived at Tyndall earlier in March.

Its the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron that will use the remotely piloted QF-16 as flying targets for weapons exercises over the Gulf of Florida.  The squadron is part of the 53rd Wing, headquartered at Eglin Air Force Base.

The F-16 in question is an F-16C that served with the Michigan Air National Guard before. It went into storage at AMARG in Arizona in 2010 and was since modified to be able to fly without a pilot. Initially, Boeing modified six F-16s to QF-16s for test purposes, with the first remotely controlled flight happening on 19 September 2013.

White Sands Missile Range
In August 2014, test missiles were fired at a QF-16 over White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico; the aircraft was of course remotely flown. For a pilotless flight, the engine is actually started with a pilot in the cockpit. When all systems are up and running, the pilots gets out and control over the aircraft is handed over to the remote pilot.

In the end, it is expected that over the next decade, well over 200 F-16s will be modified to fly as aerial targets. Most will eventually end up at the bottom of the sea after being shot to pieces high in the sky, similar to the many QF-4s before them.

© 2015 editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image (top): Arrival at Tyndall Air Force Base.
(Image © US Air Force)