Drone flights have had an increasing presence in the world today, with technology allowing unmanned flights of flying machines to do the dirty work.
Last week, Boeing and the United States Air Force took it to a whole new level and combined efforts to fly an unmanned F-16 fighter jet in Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.
Two test pilots from Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City, Florida took the new retrofitted QF-16 to the air and performed several maneuvers to test out the functionality of the modified jet. Before the recent inaugural flight, the plane was dormant and retired for about 15 years in Arizona before Boeing collaborated with the United States Air Force to put together a project that would help train pilots in fighting scenarios in the air. Previously, the military had modified QF-4 jets, a modified version of the F-4 Phantom, that were used as unmanned jets. However, being able to fly a QF-16 that closely resembles how modern fighter planes move should increase the training effectiveness in providing a more realistic target to practice on.
During the flight, the remote QF-16 was able to do maneuvers such as a barrel roll, flying at supersonic speeds at mach 1.47 (1,119mph/1,800 km/h), achieve 7 Gs of acceleration and even 9 Gs in maneuvers, something a human pilot would have physical issues with. It was also able to take off and land and maintain an altitude of 40,000 feet without an issue. Two chase planes were tailing the QF-16 to ensure proper observation of the test flight. The experiment was deemed a success.
Of course, it took some getting used to from some of the old guard. “It was a little different to see it without anyone in it, but it was a great flight all the way around,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Ryan Inman, commander, 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron.
Boeing currently has six other planes modified to QF-16s and will plan on doing live ammunition demos continuing in New Mexico later this year. The plan is to use them as live targets to help pilots during weapons training.