First unmanned F-16 takes flight in Florida

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A QF-16 full-scale aerial target takes off on its first unmanned flight at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. Beginning in 2014, the QF-16s will be used as targets during fighter pilot training.

A QF-16 full-scale aerial target takes off on its first unmanned flight at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. Beginning in 2014, the QF-16s will be used as targets during fighter pilot training. (Staff Sgt. Javier Cruz / Air Force)

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Military Times

The first unmanned F-16 took flight over the Gulf of Mexico last week, in a one-hour flight that tested the Viper’s ability to fly at supersonic speeds and perform evasive maneuvers under the control of a pilot on the ground.

The QF-16 will be used for full-scale targeting practice for fighter pilots.Once tests are completed at Tyndall, the six Vipers that have been configured will be sent to Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., for testing on an air-to-ground control system and live-fire testing.

The 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron and the Boeing Co. on Sept. 19 controlled the first unmanned QF-16 targeting drone flight at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. The QF-16, an optionally manned F-16 that was brought out of retirement and outfitted for unmanned flight, is on schedule to replace the QF-4 Phantom drone currently in use.

“The QF-4 did a good job for many years, but it’s time to turn the page in the aerial target program,” Lt. Col. Ryan Inman, commander of the 82nd ATRS, said in a release. “This program will bring us into the 4th generation aircraft. And will provide us with a mission capable, very sustainable aerial target to take us into the next 10 to 20 years.”

For the initial flight, a pilot performed all pre-flight checks and climbed out of the jet. Thomas Mudge, an 82nd ATRS pilot controller, flew the plane from a control room on base, the Air Force said this week.

“The flight itself went very well,” Mudge said. “Its performance and abilities are great and we’re looking forward to this airplane.”

The Air Force expects to fly 210 of the unmanned jets, which are Block 15, 25 and 30 variants. Theyare expected to be fielded beginning in 2014.