Again a goodbye to the legendary McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II jet that has rocked many of the world’s air spaces since the 1970s. This time the farewell is at Tyndall AFB in Florida USA, where the final QF-4 aerial target took off on 27 May 2015 – after the type has served for 20 years at the base.
The rather sad faith of these particular Phantom version was sealed about 30 minutes ago, when the two QF-4s that took off remotely-controlled by people at the ground station were destroyed in mid-air by fighter jocks flying other aircraft.
Tyndall’s QF-4 program initially started in 1997 and the destruction of the last two QF-4s marks its replacement with the QF-16 Falcon. Like the QF-4, the QF-16 is a full-scale aerial target that can be flown manned or unmanned. Unlike the QF-4, the QF-16 has all the capabilities of a newer generation aircraft.
“We get much more maneuverability out of it, and essentially we have a fully capable F-16 Falcon,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Garrison, 82nd ATRS director of operations. “It can pull 9 G’s, go supersonic and climb up to 55,000 ft. just like the front line fighters. We now have that as a target.”
The first Lockheed Martin QF-16 aerial target made its first unmanned flight, thanks to a joint effort of Boeing and the US Air Force.
Two USAF test pilots in a ground control station remotely flew the QF-16, which is a retired F-16 jet modified to be an aerial target. The QF-16 mission profile included automatic take-off, a series of simulated maneuvers, supersonic flight, and an auto land, all without a pilot in the cockpit. It looks weird – just see the video below.
,,It was a little different to see a F-16 take off without anyone in it, but it was a great flight all the way around,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Inman, the commander of the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron.
The milestone flight initiates more operational evaluations, including a live fire test at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. The Navy, Army and Air Force will ultimately use QF-16s for weapons testing and other training.
Boeing has modified six F-16s into the QF-16 configuration. Low-rate initial production is scheduled to begin in the fourth quarter, with first production deliveries in 2015. For decades the US aerial targets were dominated by the McDonnell Douglas QF-4 Phantom II, an aircraft from the Vietnam War era.
A US Navy Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II fighter aircraft refueled from a US Air Force KC-135 for the first time on August 20, 2013. The Air Force (A) and Marines VSTOL (B) versions already made such a flight earlier. The F-35 CF-1 was piloted by Lt. Col. Patrick Moran. Earlier this month, the Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 101, the Navy’s first F-35C Lightning II carrier variant aircraft squadron, completed its first flight at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
The F-35 is also known as the Joint Strike Fighter and is supposed to be the premier next-generation air combat asset of many NATO and US-allied countries for decades to come.