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BAe QF-4 (McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II)

United States (1997)

Detailing the development and operational history of the BAe QF-4 (McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II) Unmanned Target Drone.

 Entry last updated on 1/11/2018; Authored by Staff Writer; Content ©

  BAe QF-4 (McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II)  
Picture of BAe QF-4 (McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II) Unmanned Target Drone

The BAe QF-4 became a full-scale, reusable target drone for the USAF and USN based on the Vietnam War-era McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II fighter.

The QF-4 represents a full-size unmanned target drone version of the successful Cold War-era F-4 Phantom II aircraft. QF-4's are operated by the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron (itself under the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group of the 53rd Wing of Elgin AFB, Florida) out of Tyndall Air Force Base. Drones are utilized for a variety of reasons with these QF-4's mounting various countermeasures to research a bevy of weapons and tactical maneuvers.

The QF-4 drone was put into operational service in 1997 as converted F-4 Phantom II models. It is a remote-controlled aerial target that has the benefit of being reusable. Remote controlling is handled by either a pilot at a nearby ground control station or can be fully under computer control via the Gulf Range Drone Control System. Either way, a chase plan is utilized during the exercises as a precaution. Other precautionary measures include the use of internally-held explosives aboard the QF-4. Should the system become unstable or unresponsive, ground forces have the ability to directly destroy the runaway unit if need be. Exercises are only accomplished over water sources deemed available to drone programs in the United States.

QF-4 drones are essentially full-working modified models of their F-4 forefathers. Modifications of the original McDonnell aircraft were handled by BAE Systems at the cost of $2.6 million per system conversion. The airframe has retained all visible similarities to the former and internal systems such as the General Electric turbojet engines (with reheat capability) are all accounted for. Performance specs include a top speed of Mach 2, a range of 1,300 miles and a service ceiling of 60,000 feet.
The QF-4 succeeded the QF-106 (based on USAF F-106 aircraft) in the USAF drone inventory. Some 86 total QF-4 drones were known to be in service as of this writing (2008). 250 total QF-4 target drones were registered as shot down as of 2013.

The QF-4 line has since been succeeded by the QF-16 which is a target drone variant of the popular and successful Lockheed Martin / General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon (2015). Formal replacement of QF-4 drones is expected during 2015.
BAe QF-4 Specifications
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United States
Year: 1997
Status: Active, In-Service
Type: Unmanned Target Drone
Manufacturer(s): BAe Systems / McDonnell Aircraft Corporation - USA
Production: 250
Supported Mission Types
Ground Attack
Close-Air Support
Airborne Early Warning
Electronic Warfare
Aerial Tanker
Passenger Industry
VIP Travel
Business Travel
Special Forces
Crew: 0
Length: 30.18 ft (9.2 m)
Width: 38.39 ft (11.70 m)
Height: 16.40 ft (5.00 m)
Empty Weight: 41,502 lb (18,825 kg)
MTOW: 61,796 lb (28,030 kg)

Installed Power
2 x General Electric J79 turbojet engines developing 17,845 lb thrust with afterburner.

Standard Day Performance
Maximum Speed: 1,599 mph (2,574 kph; 1,390 kts)
Maximum Range: 1,300 mi (2,092 km; 1,130 nm)
Service Ceiling: 59,652 ft (18,182 m; 11.30 mi)
Rate-of-Climb: 41,300 ft/min (12,588 m/min)

None as the air vehicle is expendable. Explosives are placed internally in the event that the drone becomes unresponsive and uncontrollable.

Operators List
United States

Series Model Variants
• QF-4 - Base Series Designation; based on the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II airframe.