The recent delivery of a QF-16 from Boeing to the 82nd Aerial Target Squadron marks an important milestone on the road to recovery for Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.
"The arrival of this QF-16 brings us one step closer to resuming operations," said Col. Steven Boatright, 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group commander. "It is vital to the warfighter that we resume operations when it is deemed safe to do so."
The QF-16 enables live fire weapons testing in the Joint Gulf Range Complex, which is made up of 180,000 square miles that stretches from Key West to northwest Florida, and allows for joint test and training exercises.
The 82nd ATRS currently has 18 QF-16s assigned to Tyndall AFB. Six QF-16s are unmanned, but all of them are modified to be flown remotely. The manned configuration of the aircraft can be used with a pilot in the cockpit to train the remote pilots flying from the ground station.
"It is important that we continue to accept new target aircraft into the fleet to keep test programs on schedule and to deliver capability to the warfighter," said Lt. Col Ryan Serrill, 82nd ATRS commander. "Our people are safe and are eager to get the flying mission back off the ground. Our mission is one that will continue at Tyndall and we look forward to getting back to flying operations."
A QF-16 is prepared for takeoff during an unmanned live fire exercise at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., June 25, 2014.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Aaron Montoya)
In addition to supporting the test community, the WEG hosts visiting fighter aircraft units from around the globe to participate in Combat Archer. During their two week stay at Tyndall AFB, units are evaluated on all phases of air-to-air combat operations including an end-to-end kill-chain evaluation of man, weapon, and machine in a realistic combat environment.
"No other Air Force in the world comes anywhere close to the same scale of weapons testing as the Air Force," said Serrill. "We recognize the importance of this data to continually improve our warfighters ability which is why it's so important that the WEG mission continue."
Government civilians and contractors provide the backbone of QF-16 operations in both its manned and unmanned configurations. They are critical to our unique unmanned mission, as they are the only ones that operate the target in its final unmanned configuration.
"Our group is comprised of military, civilians and contractors," said Boatright. "These are men and women who have called Panama City home for decades, and have poured so much of their life into Tyndall AFB and Panama City. We couldn't do what we do in the WEG without them. I am proud to be able to serve alongside not just our uniformed military, but our local civilians and contractors. It is devastating to see what the hurricane did to this community, but we will rebuild. The men and women who survived Hurricane Michael are just as eager as I am to be fully mission ready again."
This article originally appeared on the United States Air Force. Follow @usairforce on Twitter.