To keep their skills sharp, US Air Force pilots routinely fly simulated sorties against domestic planes with similar flight capabilities to that of enemy planes. For years, this decoy duty has fallen to specially modified, unmanned F-4 Phantom IIs, however these Vietnam-era fighters can no longer keep up with America's modern warplanes. That's why the USAF recently took delivery of a new breed of autonomous target based on the venerable F-16 Fighting Falcon.
Boeing delivered the first of an expected 126 remote controlled QF-16 target drones to Florida's Tyndall Air Force Base last week. "It was a little different to see it without anyone in it, but it was a great flight all the way around," USAF Lt. Col. Ryan Inman said in a 2013 statement. "It's a replication of current, real world situations and aircraft platforms they can shoot as a target. Now we have a 9G capable, highly sustainable aerial target."
Another five QF-16s are currently being outfitted as part of the company's initial pre-production run and are expected to enter service by early October. They'll be employed by the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron as stand-ins for the MiG-29 Fulcrum and Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker, a pair of fighter jets that our forces are likely to encounter should Russia's recent spate of saber-rattling and annexations lead to actual armed conflict.
[Image Credit: Boeing]