November 19, 2012 (by Asif Shamim) - Officials at Tyndall Air Force Base received the first of six full-scale QF-16 drones on Monday which arrived from Boeing Global Services and Support in Jacksonville around 12:30hrs local time.
USAF QF-16C block 30 #85-1570 Full Scale Aerial Target seen on August 31st ,2012 at Cecil Field in Jacksonville IAP. [Boeing photo]
The aircraft was identified as an QF-16C block 30
The 53rd Weapons Evaluations Group (53 WEG) located at Tyndall will take possession of the QF-16s Full Scale Aerial Target (FSAT) and will be use it for developmental testing and compatibility with the Gulf Range Drone Control System. It is expected this process of integration will take upto six months.
The drones are capable of flying unmanned missions, but officials say training will be needed before they ultimately use the drones during pilot training.
"At some point, in four or five months from now, we will be flying unmanned missions that we will shoot at with aerial targets so we're pretty excited about that," said retired Colonel Michael MacWilliam who flew the QF-16 into Tyndall on Monday.
The intent is for QF-16 to replace the aging QF-4 fleet which have been the stalwart in this current role. The F-16 drone is an upgrade being more manoeuvrable and easier to control than the ex-Vietnam era war horse.
The airforce is not the only customers intending to train and use the QF-16. The Navy, Marine Corp and Army want to test with the new drones, so as to evaluate their own weapons systems.
Boeing was award the contract in March 2012 to modify and develop the QF-16, with the first six jets flown to Cecil Field, Jacksonville for the updates. All are due to be delivered to the 53 WEG by December of this year. If all goes well the airforce has an option to purchase upto 126 FSATs.
"We take the gun out of it and replace it with the electronic control boxes," said Bill Higginbotham, the developmental test director for the QF-16 program at Boeing. "You have a box that will act like a back seat pilot."
The QF-16 can be flown either by a pilot or via remote control, Higginbotham said. He also said that eventually a bomb would be placed aboard the plane so it could be destroyed if needed.