F-16 Flies With No Pilot

F-16 Flies With No Pilot

An F-16 took off from Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., on Sept. 19 without a pilot in the cockpit.

You read that right. The first QF-16 drone flew over Florida last Thursday as a part of a program led by Boeing to convert retired F-16s into QF-16 Full Scale Aerial Targets for U.S. pilots to shoot down.

The pilotless F-16 took off and flew a 55-minute sortie as it executed maneuvers pulling up to 7G’s, reaching an altitude of 40,000 feet, and breaking the sound barrier at Mach 1.47.

“It was a little different to see it without anyone in it, but it was a great flight all the way around,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Ryan Inman, Commander, 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron, in a release following the flight.

U.S. pilots had used retired F-4 Phantoms as shooting targets, but the Air Force is running out of Phantoms. The Air Force decided to dip into it’s large fleet of retired F-16s to replace the Phantom. Lockheed Martin has built well over 5,000 F-16s since the fourth generation fighter’s first flight in 1976.

It’s not Lockheed Martin who won the $70 million contract in 2010 to covert six F-16s into drones. Boeing did and will likely reap the follow on contracts to retrofit over 100 more of these QF-16 Full Scale Aerial Targets.

Beoing will take the retired F-16s from the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base boneyard where the Air Force sends most of its retired aircraft. The Air Force fires armed missiles at these full scale models to test out new munitions and train pilots.

“It’s a replication of current, real world situations and aircraft platforms they can shoot as a target. Now we have a 9G capable, highly sustainable aerial target,” Inman said in the statement.

When Boeing first received this contract, and since unmanned aircraft have received quite a bit of notoriety over the past decade, defense analysts have wondered aloud if the Air Force should consider turning more current aircraft into drones for combat missions.

Air Force leaders have said the service can’t depend on drones like the Predator or Reaper in a contested airspace for the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions that ground commanders have depended on  in Iraq and Afghanistan. While an F-16 doesn’t have the same loiter capabilities, it stands less of a chance of getting shot down by basic surface-to-air missile systems.

Defense leaders will pay close attention to see how the retrofitted F-16s perform and the technology to take pilots out of cockpits continues to advance.

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Debating when they’ll use unmanned F-16’s flying over Afghanistan as JDAM trucks…

Sad day for Falcon fans to see so many used a million dollar clay pigeons for a Eagle or raptor pilot.

…they can take the PILOT out of the cockpit, they can take the COCK out of the cockpit, but Mil​.com will STILL play stoopid censorship games…

LOL Target drones that are more capable then America’s front line fighters.

..F-35TD, Target Drone…lol…
…currently scheduled to deploy in 2033…rotflmfao…

I’m frankly surprised the USAF isn’t using retired A-10’s: they’re easily the most hated/despised aircraft in the inventory, and they’ve been trying to get rid of them for decades.

The fact that they scare the living daylights out of the enemy, are adored by the ground-pounders never made any difference — despite astonishing lethality and performance.

A-10 served little to no purpose in the Pacific Pivot strategy as well as AirSea battle plans. Just because ground troops like it doesn’t mean its worth continuing. We will be exiting Afghanistan soon, and the A-10s, which were originally designed to defeat Soviet tank rushes in areas like the Fulda Gap, will become obsolete again. The fact of the matter is the A-10 is far too slow and lacks lustful defenses against any military with decent surface to air/air to air capabilities and drones are just as capable at defeating farmers with AK’s.

So if we’re retiring the F-15C fleet, does that mean we’ll be seeing a QF-15 soon?

You must have a few stars on your shoulder or scrambled eggs on your hat, making people happy by making decisions that get YOU promoted. Your lack of concern for “ground troops” pretty much tells all. We heard responses like your drivel during Vietnam yet what did the ground boys need, love, and get? The Skyraider. Nothing like it for close air. If we have air supremacy, that plane or similar, if around today, upgraded, could be doing the same thing in either theatre, for a lot cheaper than an A-10. We may not need to take out commie tanks, but for everything else a Skyraider-like plane would still be useful, cheaper, and probably better than your precious drones, which can’t carry the firepower an A-10 or even the Skyraider could. Pick up an M4 for a year, go get surrounded by hordes of people who want to kill you, then report back on how it feels to be a “ground guy” and tell us how much you hate an A-10.

The military is in a big budget crisis. Isn’t this is a big waste of money especially when you add in the missiles for the shoot down? Can simulators be used for shoot downs especially since these aircraft can’t do air combat maneuvers-or can they?

Instead of using these things as drones, I would use them as the ultimate UCAV as without a human pilot; they could still carry the same payload as a manned F-16 and go into extremely hostile airspace without worry because no one is in the cockpit.

I wonder how much Boeing is going to have to dial back the QF-16 so the F-35 can shoot it down? That explains why they only need six of them, they will last a while.

Much as some may hate the A-10, it has not been replaced by anything.
The sheer fear factor works well.
And they are somewhat cheap to operate, 2 big turbofan engines that can run on alcohol or gasoline, or perfume.
And they are very robust.
And slow.
Want fighter training? you need a fighter, the a-10 is far too slow for that.
But, yank out the front mounted cannon and you can put a huge radar unit in.
The turbofan engines can provide ample electrical power.
The A-10 will live on, at least for a while longer, even if it is only chasing drug runners all over the US borders.

What a shame! They should modify all retired F-16, F-15, F-14, F/A-18’s and bring them back to combat readiness. Forget trying to get the latest and greatest with high prices, when we can pick and choose which aircraft we can bring back for 1/3rd the cost or less. We are wasting our our assets, just to have new expensive planes, when these retired planes can still be used to great affect both in cost of maintenance and repairs.

Sir! You ROCK! Coming from a former “Ground Pounder”, I was extremely happy to have an A-10 show up to spank the Tangos! I really appreciate your opinion!

“obsolete again.” When was it obsolete the first time? It ripped up Iraqi armor in 1991 and 2003 and was a credible threat to the Serbians when they were brought it in to that conflict. The A-10s speed is a feature, not a flaw. F-teens making gun runs have a split second to fire their guns before overshooting the target area. The A-10 doesn’t have that problem. It can fly to the battle, see the good guys and bad guys with their own eyes if needed, and release weapons very close to friendlies. As far as surface to air threats, name an aircraft besides the AH-64 and A-10 than can eat hundreds of rounds of enemy ground fire and still stick around long enough to kill the guys doing the shooting and return home when the battle is over. A-10s have even survived missile strikes. The A-10 is a specialized plane. It is the best at what it does. We have other planes specialized for air superiority or SEAD. That’s what they’re for. And for your last comment, name a drone now or on the drawing board that can do what the A-10 does.

Pretty sure North Korea has hordes of Soviet tanks. We aren’t going to get into a war with a country with a half decent airforce anyway. If we did end up getting into a fight with China, once their air defences are gone, then the F-22’s, F-15Ds, and F-35s are going to be useless and we are going to need something to deal with the hordes of Chinese tanks. If the Air Force doesn’t want CAS then let the Army do it and give them the A-10s.

I do like the idea of A-10s having the DMZ as a gigantic killbox.

I do think the fighters you’ve mentioned can still drop bombs on said tanks.

Isn’t that a pricey drone? Would it be cheaper to design and develop a high performance drone for target practice? It could be dual use…drone and UCAV.! Make it cheap and make tonnes of them!

I am not a Fighter Pilot and I am a groundpounder and I like the idea of flying unmanned aircraft against the enemy especially since it leave a vulnerable pilot out of the cockpit. Good idea and lets’s use them to their advantage.

I’m not sure I understand the enthusiasm by the USAF. These Q modified high performance fighter aircraft seem to represent a future that will no longer require fighter pilots. As a ground pounder in my early days I along with many others experienced serious pucker when events of a close air asset took out friendlies and this happened entirely too often (one time is too often). Locked and loaded Q16’s in CAS mission mode flown by chairborne rangers might be improve the odds. What say you?

If the armchair pilots are in Florida, as they are now with the current UCAVs, I’d say your odds for blue-on-blue lethality will increase, not decrease. Here’s why. Current UCAV attacks are typically directed by realtime aerial video intelligence performed by the armed drone. They are not performed in a ground support communications chain. Typically allied troops are not anywhere close to the area when the Hellfies are launched. In addition, the lethal radius of a blast/frag model Hellfire is relatively small, tens of yards. So even if used in a ground support role, a mis-targeting might kill a couple people, wound a few more, depends on circumstances.

Now put your F-16 drone into that battle space in a direct support role. The chair jockey in Florida, after having comms relayed 3 or 4 times through various chains of Joint commands, is going to be dropping a 250lb SBD, 1000/2000lb JDAM, or some other heavy payload. Depending on terrain, a mis-targeting of one of these weapons is going to kill and injure many more troops than a hellfire.

There is a very good reason the Marine corps has always assigned its pilots, both fixed and toratry wing, to live and train with ground Marines before allowing them to climb into the combat seat. The resulting human bond dveloped by this has made US Marine pilots the absolute best ground support flyers on the planet. TTBOMK, the Air Force has done something similar but strictly for FAC. So there is somewhat of a bomd between some A10 pilots and Army grunt. Once the A10 is gone, and your AF CAS for Army grunts is performed by only manned zippers and drones with pilots in Florida, you’re going to have very poor on target lethality per sorite, and blue-on-blue casualties will soar.

I’m not certain why so many commentators are making such a big deal out of this. QF-4s have been flying for many years, before that they did the same to old F-102s and F-100s. They’re target drones, not UCAVs. If you want something to soak up enemy SAMs there are decoys that are cheaper and more effective.

I could mention the recently canceled PCAS variant of the A-10 as a drone that does the A-10’s job, but that’s still an A-10. Why they canceled the drone version of it, an ideal baseline plane for drone considering its role, can only be attributed to the hatred the USAF seemingly has always had for it.

William of course works for the company that makes target drones for the Chinese — the F-35

There are fighters.…..and, then, there are targets. It’s both good and bad news.

is somthing wrong with cockpit as a word? Thats what its called.

The pacific Air-Sea battle plan covers only one-half of the planet, and the middle east remains a dangerous place. The A-10 is heavily armored, heavily armed, versatile, has repeatedly proven itself highly survivable, and brutally lethal. The plane was on its way to the boneyard in 1990, but happened to be available when Iraq invaded Kuwait.

When the plane actually got its chance to show what it could do during Gulf War I, its performance and lethality stunned everyone (on both sides of the conflict). A10’s continue to perform magnificently to this day. High speed isn’t always the answer: the A-10 can operate in environments the go-fasts and choppers cannot. And compared to other platforms — its dirt cheap.

…c.o.c.k.p.i.t. usually slips by the censor…

…thanks, oblatt1, now I know what the “C” in F-35C stands for!…
Putin can only *DREAM* of his F-35CCCP’s!…

If you are a fighter pilot now might be a real good time to start looking for another line of work.

$70,000,000 for six conversions??? No wonder people cry foul when they read about the military’s budget. That is just plain rediculous…

If our country can fly with no pilot, what’s the big deal about a F16 flying with no pilot?

here’s an idea why not strip down to bare minimal equipment and sell to some allies, would help cut down on deficit dont you think

I’m a retired MCPO / U.S. Navy Aircraft Tech Mech. I surely hope you’re correct. I’m still an old school Flattop sailor. And, I love the skill sets that the human element provides. As long as we can assist and protect our ground pounders, I’m all for it. “The best defense, is a kick-ass offense”. Kick the tires, start the fire!!!.

I like your concept. Makes sense to me.

Why not sell the surplus F16s, 15s, 14s, 4s, etc to our less fortunate allies and use the $$$ from the sale to put fuel in our existing fleets and KEEP OUR PILOTS AND AVIATORS PROFICIENT IN THEIR TYPE RATINGS!!!!!! This way we can avoid the hit to our combat readiness levels when the next round of OBAMA’s SEQUESTRATION comes through… and it will come by one more time, I promise.

William_C1 is correct– QF target drones have been around for decades, and quite openly. They are expended strictly as targets; they are not unmanned combat vehicles. It may be the first time it’s been done with F-16’s, but it’s not the first time it’s been done. Once again the media does its best to make a sensational something out of an easily verified historical nothing.

Honestly, I don’t care and that started in January of 2009.

Our present military is defending the tyranny of the USA. I have to obey the USA but I sure don’t have to wish it well.

If the military burned the whole surplus fleet tomorrow I would care less. It would be just be less weapons for Al Qaeda.

I believe that big issue with using the F-16 as a drone is because it is capable of carrying human pilot. I agree that it would be something to be able to use this in a combat role. This thing would be able to evade most SAM because the aircraft would not be limited by human endurance. As for them being pilotless, they are not. There is someone in a chair flying the aircraft. It’s just that they are not inside the airplane. Technology is allowing us to do things that we could imagine 20 years ago.

Agreed. It will be the named the QF-35, and it will probably be operating sooner than 2033.

I remember reading that Boeing’s plans for the 6th generation F-18 replacements will have manned or unmanned capability depending on the role. I don’t remember what reason they gave when reading the post but they basically said from their opinion that a full-fledged un-manned force of combat airplanes won’t be in the cards for a long while to come. Have you seen Boeing’s concepts by the way? They’re really something to look at, even though they’ve changed the design about four times and into something kind of generic looking. Lockheed also has one too.

when I was stationed there in the 80’s they were using F-100’s before they switched to the F4’s. They can only use these old planes for so long before they can’t get parts for them anymore. it’s just the natural progression of things. I actually saw an F4 sitting in transit alert next to an F15 and the F4 was he newer plane.

Yeah…“once their air defences (sic) are gone.…” the A-10 is a premier CAS platform. No one disputes that. An AF 4-star recently said he’d love to have a 1,000 A-10s.

But how are the air defenses gonna git gone in the first place?

I flew F-4s for manyu years. I about cried when I saw the first QF-4 picture, but then I thought which is better for an old warhorse rotting in the Arizone desert or fighting for it’s life in full AB and giving some aircrew the best training they will see on an actul launch

We’re already selling what the export market can bear. At some point, the export market is just too poor for new aircraft and flies old Skyhawks and whatnot.

…yeah, but DO NOT kick the tires on the F-35…they cost $1500. a piece, and only last 10 take-offs & landings, as it is!…

You can’t make a piloted aircraft out of a QF target drone, anywhere near as easily as we can now convert boneyard F-16’s into pilot-less drones…
Seeing an F-16 flying, with an obviously vacant c.o.c.k.p.i.t., *IS* newsworthy, I’d say…
During WW2, Kennedy’s brother was killed flying a B-17 that had been converted into a radio-controlled flying bomb…It exploded before he and the co-pilot could bail out,as was standard procedure…
The basic idea is certainly not new, but C’MON, don’t be so JADED, ok…???…
I think seeing a pilot-less F-16 IS creepy, and newsworthy…

…too bad you didn’t have a camera handy…Airplane modelers would LOVE those photos for reference…

Hell I was the Pro Super at Duke Field on Eglin AFB and received a whole squadron of F-15 A I think to be used as targets on the Eglin reservation to be killed by AC-130 Gunships and an array of other fighters. I personally looked through the aircraft forms on each tail number and every tail number was Fully Mission Capable (FMC) Just out dated, they were lifted by a skycrane helocopter to the various gun and bomb ranges to be destroyed.

And god knows no one has tanks anymore. The drones, your fast jets and I’m sure you, are just to fragile for CAS.
Hell, just the other day the USAF made a big deal about how a shinny F-22 had to come and save a drone from a big, bad, Iranian F-4.

You slap a few cheap ECM pods on A-10s and I think they’ll do just fine. SAMs are finite.

Is Putin, NK and the rest of the world onboard with this Pacific Pivot?

cut the USAF budget in half, this would solve the Gov budget problem and still leave the AF enough for all its needs.

…and why is this news? They are running out of QF-4s just like they ran out of QF-102s, –106s, and –100s before them. These target drones are not autonomous, like the controversial ones of today. They are remotely controlled practice targets.

Gettahold of yourself, Bill. I see you are frustrated with the leadership. Maybe it can be changed. If you think the US is tyrannical, maybe you should consider what is going to replace it. We are on our way.

“…would be able to evade most SAM“
Hmmm…First of all, the human endurance limits are built in to the airframe. If you remove the human, there will not be a change in the maximum 9g limitation. Also, the aero/propulsion capability is unchanged, so the sustained turning and climbing ability would be the same, at the same weight. Avoiding SAMs is possible with end game tactics similar to the manned jet, but the evasion software that simulates a pilot in survival mode would be some trick, don’t you think? Anyway, technology exists today for a guided missile to hit a maneuvering ballistic reentry vehicle travelling at warp speed. I am not optimistic any F-16 could reliably survive against a determined defense using maneuvering.

Bradford, it’s not censorship, it’s manners. A large number of posters simply never learned any at home from their parents, or if they did, they’ve forgotten them. If that means that you can’t write the word ****pit, then I’m pleased to make the compromise.


The next war will be in the Middle East, and Russia will be the main protagonist. The strategic pivot is a giant strategic mistake.


Target drone technology is really old-hat.

There was, by contrast and in comparison, the first unmanned B-2 Bomber sortie that took place in 2004: http://​www​.aero​-news​.net/​i​n​d​e​x​.​c​f​m​?​d​o​=​m​a​i​n​.​t​e​x​tpo

But — the word appears uncensored in the title of the article!


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