Boeing is converting a retired stock of Lockheed F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters for the unmanned target drone role.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
Credit: Image from official Boeing marketing material.
QF-16 is the designation assigned to retired Lockheed Martin F-16 "Fighting Falcon" multirole fighters reconstituted as full-scale, unmanned drone aircraft. The QF-16 - converted through a Boeing-led program - succeeds the outgoing line of McDonnell Douglas F-4 "Phantom II" multirole fighters converted by BAe to become the "QF-4". The QF-16 series will be featured as an aerial target for training purposes as well as to develop new aerial doctrine and test new technologies.
Six modified F-16s currently make up the QF-16 fleet (as of 2015) and these currently serve the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron (ATS) of the United States Air Force (USAF). Testing is done at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico.
The existing F-16 airframe is outfitted by Boeing engineers with new equipment allowing for automated take-off and landing, preset maneuvers execution and high-speed, high-altitude flight. These ex-USAF aircraft - mainly F-16A and F-16C production models - carry the Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-200, -220 or -229 or the General Electric F110-GE-100 or -129 series turbofan engines offering afterburning capability which allows the fourth generation airframe to reach supersonic speeds and enter high agility movements to better represent modern air targets to be encountered by American airmen today. Additionally, the aircraft retains a full-working defensive suit which serves against incoming radar tracking and seeking air-to-air missiles - offering a greater challenge to the student pilot. Should the QF-16 become unresponsive to the operators or a danger near civilian areas its flight can be terminated in-air with the loss of the entire aircraft.
The QF-16 program has reached several milestones since its development began - it flew with an empty cockpit on September 23rd, 2013 to much publicity. In August of 2014 it was reported that the aircraft responded successfully to a ground-based missile live fire test. However, instead of directly targeting the unmanned aircraft with the missile (and risking its total loss), a Ground Control Station (GCS) sent the missile to a specific coordinate in the airspace near the QF-16 with the data collection system aboard the QF-16 validating that the missile did in fact reach the coordinates. After data comparison from both the GCS and QF-16, the missile was able to hit its "target".
Beyond the stated scope of the program, it is not out of the realm of possibility that data garnered from the QF-16 project will serve a full-sized unmanned fighter platform in the near future.
In April of 2016 it was announced that Boeing won a contract to manufacture an additional 30 QF-16 systems. The work is expected to be completed by April of 2018.
Status Active, In-Service
[ 126 Units ] : Boeing Company - USA
49.21 ft (15 m)
32.64 ft (9.95 m)
16.01 ft (4.88 m)
(Showcased structural dimension values pertain to the Boeing QF-16 production model)
18,894 lb (8,570 kg)
42,329 lb (19,200 kg)
(Showcased weight values pertain to the Boeing QF-16 production model)
1 x Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-200/220/229 OR General Electric F110-GE-100/129 afterburning turbofan engine developing 28,600 lb of thrust.
(Showcased powerplant information pertains to the Boeing QF-16 production model)
901 mph (1,450 kph; 783 kts)
50,000 feet (15,240 m; 9.47 miles)
2,610 miles (4,200 km; 2,268 nm)
50,000 ft/min (15,240 m/min)
(Showcased performance values pertain to the Boeing QF-16 production model; Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database)
None. Explosives carried should the air vehicle become unresponsive in flight.
(Showcased armament details pertain to the Boeing QF-16 production model)
QF-16 - Base series designation; based on the General Dynamics / Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon airframe.
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