Fox News/War Games on September 26, 2013, reported that drone fighter jet squadrons may be hitting the skies in a not so distant future. Excerpts below:
Boeing announced this week the successful first test flight of an F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jet modified with unmanned control technology — essentially turning it into a drone.
The QF-16 program takes retired F-16 jets and turns them into drones to work as advanced aerial targets in fighter jet pilot training. Without a pilot in the cockpit, Boeing’s fighter jet took off by itself, flew from a Florida base to the Gulf of Mexico at supersonic speeds, and then landed itself.
During the test mission it flew at an altitude of 40,000 feet and a speed of Mach 1.47, or 1,119 miles per hour. In spite of the empty cockpit, this Fighting Falcon demonstrated a series of combat maneuvers to evade attack by enemy aircraft and missile lock-ons.
From a ground control station at Tyndall Air Force base in Florida, two U.S. Air Force test pilots directed the fighter jet to complete its first unmanned flight. Two manned planes followed it and ensured the mission remained safe.
F-16s are approximate 50 feet long, have a nearly 33-foot wingspan and can travel at Mach 2 — a whopping 1,500 mph. This sort of fighter has a range of 1,740 nautical miles.
To create the next generation of aerial combat training targets, Boeing took retired fighter jets and retrofitted them with drone tech, also known as unmanned aircraft control tech.
U.S. pilots can now use the sooped up jets to train against as realistic enemy aircraft. Without a human in the cockpit, pilots can practice firing on and neutralizing enemy aircraft.
Thus far Boeing has adapted six F-16 to become QF-16s and the U.S. military will use some of them in live fire tests. The current plan is to deliver these into military service in 2015.
Charges are built into drones to destroy the aircraft should they, say, diverge from the pre-approved flight plan.
Once the QF-16s roll into service, they will give pilots targets that are similar to the jet performance they will fly against in operations. Pilots will be able to use them to test newly developed weapons as well.
After this first successful test, there will be more operational evaluations. A live fire test at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M is in the pipeline.
Eventually, the QF-16s will be flown for the Navy, Army and Air Force for weapons testing and challenging pilots in training.
Defense specialist Allison Barrie has traveled around the world covering the military, terrorism, weapons advancements and life on the front line.