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Top Hats hone lethal skills

June 25, 2009 (by Justin Oakes) - As the target approaches, sights are set and AIM 9 and AIM 120 missiles launch from a Luke Air Force Base F-16 Fighting Falcon, engulfing the enemy aircraft in flames.

USAF F-16C block 42 #90-0768 from the 310th FS flies over the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico during a QF-4 drone shoot-out exercise on June 19th, 2009. [USAF photo by TSgt. Jason Wilkerson]

No, this did not happen in the skies over a war zone; it happened as part of a training exercise high above the New Mexico desert.

Sixty-five Thunderbolts and five Luke aircraft embarked to Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., to participate in a two-week exercise beginning June 8 in support of a weapons systems evaluation program. Airmen from the 310th Fighter Squadron participated in a live-fire exercise with QF-4 drones -- where their skills and knowledge were put to the test.

"It doesn't get any better than training with live ammo and full-scale drones," said Lt. Col. James McCune, 310th FS commander. "It is impressive to watch that missile fire off the side of your aircraft, then see it destroy its target. For the seven pilots from Luke on this exercise, this was their first time shooting live air-to-air missiles. It is an important test and end-to-end evaluation of our maintenance, pilots and aircraft. In short, it validates our weapons and tactics for the entire maintenance and ops team."

The exercise consisted of locating and destroying unmanned QF-4 drones using live missiles, as well as hitting gunnery banners that were towed behind Lear jets. According to drone engineers, the QF-4 is an F-4 Phantom fighter that has been converted into a drone marked as enemy aircraft. The Air Force, Navy and Army use these drones for weapon system evaluation, live-fire lethality testing for ground-to-air and air-to-air missiles, and developmental and operational testing and evaluation.

The restricted airspace over the White Sands Missile Range provided an environment similar to that of the Middle East and zoned specifically for missile use. Besides Eglin AFB, where the same type of exercise with drones takes place over water, Holloman is unique in providing this experience.

The exercise ended in success June 19 as the last QF-4 drone met its demise when an AIM missile from a Top Hat two-ship formation hit its mark and confirmed what is known worldwide ... that Luke trains the greatest F-16 pilots and maintainers.

Courtesy of 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

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