Here's why Air Force fighter pilots might soon be seeing ghosts
This fall, Air Force fighter pilots taking to the skies to train might find themselves going up against a ghost.
Pilots chasing “enemy” jets in air-to-air dog-fighting exercises or avoiding them during training targeting runs will see the familiar sign of the F-16 Fighting Falcon. The Air Force is converting older-generation, retired F-16 fighters that were wrapped and stored at the military’s aircraft boneyard in the Arizona desert into the latest unmanned drone called the “QF-16.”
The QF-16 is a “full scale aerial target” and for all intents and purposes it looks like the sleek, single-engine jet that was built by General Dynamics (now part of Lockheed Martin) and first flown during the height of the Cold War — with the same body, same size, same profile, same maneuverability as the manned Fighting Falcon. The target drone is converted so it has similar radar signatures and capabilities as potential adversary aircraft – including the latest generation of the multi-role F-16 flying today – that U.S. pilots might encounter in the not-so-friendly skies.
The Air Force’s F-16 drone program became fully operational in September when the Air Combat Command declared it had reached initial operational capability.
“This leap forward in airframe capabilities, combined with advanced electronic pods, will allow us to properly test and evaluate our 5th generation aircraft and weapons,” Lt. Col. Matthew Garrison, who commands the 82nd Aerial Target Squadron based at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, said in a Sept. 26 news release. The squadron belongs to the 53th Wing, which serves as the Air Force’s only operational test unit.
The orange-tipped jet drones can break the sound barrier in supersonic flight, sans pilot – and even reach 9Gs. That’s as tough as the latest high-tech jets out there — U.S.-built or otherwise. The “pilot,” though, is on the ground, controlling the drone just as other unmanned aircraft .
Various onboard sensors and instruments in the drone jet collect data and information that can be used by whoever’s got the finger on a missile (or other ordnance and weaponry) directed at it from the ground control station. During a 2014 ground missile test fired at the drone that registered a “kill” hit, an engineer described its role as a target to help in weapons training.
“The QF-16’s mission is really to act as a target and validate weapons systems. So, we do have a scoring system on the airplane and its job is to tell us basically how close the missile came and its trajectory,” Paul Cejas, a chief engineer, said in a Boeing news release.
St. Louis-based Boeing Defense, Space & Security got the first contract in 2010 to create as many as 126 of the drones. It flew the first unmanned flight – with an empty cockpit – over Tyndall AFB in Florida’s Panhandle in 2013.
As of March, Boeing had delivered 11 QF-16s to the Air Force, and the most-recent contract called for the conversion of another 30 target drones, according to the company. Several dozen retired jets are undergoing conversion. The F-16s are pulled from the boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, where several hundred of the mothballed jets are parked in the sun outside of Tucson, Arizona. Crews with the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group help prepare for the trek to Florida, where the bulk of the conversion work is done.
The QF-16 isn’t the first unmanned fighter-like drone. But it is the latest generation, replacing the QF-4, an aerial target created from the previous generation of F-4 Phantom jets, which saw their glory during the Vietnam War.
There’s simply not enough of them left, and time has aged them toward obsolescence. The Air Force flew its final QF-4 mission on Aug. 17 at Holloman AFB in New Mexico, and the service plans to officially retire it in December.
How North Korean special operators plan to invade the South via paragliders
North Korean special operators may be planning to paraglide into South Korea in an attack the country simulated in mid-September, according to South Korea.
This Halloween-themed bomb was as dumb as it sounds
Still a few years out from the Manhattan Project being completed, a dentist / mad scientist came up with a disastrous and inhumane plan — the "bat bomb."
These are the contenders flying off to replace the A-10
Four planes are flying off for the chance to try to replace the beloved A-10 Thunderbolt. Here's how they hold up.
This was a major problem with the South Vietnamese army
"Be glad to trade you some ARVN rifles. Ain't never been fired and only dropped once." — Cowboy from "Full Metal Jacket."
9 reasons why you should have joined the Army instead
The only down side is knowing that when you get out, you will never be as cool as you were when you were doing "Hooah things" with your boys.
7 things all troops should know before becoming a sniper
With Hollywood tapping into the sniper lifestyle with films like "American Sniper," many young troops get a misconception what it's like to be one.
The first home-built Japanese supersonic fighter was a ship-killer
The Mitsubishi F-1 was designed to carry out the maritime strike mission, but also could carry AIM-9 Sidewinders.
This is why Bowe Bergdahl says he pleaded guilty
US Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, held captive by the Taliban for five years after walking off his post in Afghanistan, is expected to plead guilty.
Say hello to America's newest 40mm grenade machine gun
The Mk-47 Mod 0 Advanced Grenade Launcher takes the auto 40 mike-mike to a whole new level.