August 26, 2014 (by Katie Perdaris and Lorenzo Cortes) - On a dry, clear summer morning, Michael Macwilliam readied the QF-16 aerial target for its first live fire test.
The missile passes above the pilotless QF-16 during testing at White Sands Missile Range. [Boeing photo]
Macwilliam is no stranger to the F-16. "I flew F-16s my whole career, since 1985," said Macwilliam. He now works for Boeing on the QF-16 program, which modified six F-16s to fly unmanned as aerial targets.
Macwilliam is responsible for getting the jet ready to fly unmanned, and this time ground-to-air missiles were fired at the jet.
"It’s a 4th generation aerial target. The F-16 is much more maneuverable. It can provide our customers with an aerial target that’s got more capabilities," said Macwilliam.
QF-16 Chief Engineer, Paul Cejas, said the aircraft is designed to gather data and report back to the shooter.
“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."
The ground control station sets the coordinates for the missile. Then, using its on board system, the QF-16 validates that the missile hit those coordinates, and detects the distance and speed of the missile. If all the data matches up, the mission is considered a "kill".