Boeing Completes 1st Flight Of QF-16 Aerial Target For US Air Force


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Boeing Completes 1st Flight Of QF-16 Aerial Target For US Air Force

By Shane Nolan

May 15, 2012 - Boeing and the U.S. Air Force (USAF) completed the first manned flight of the QF-16 Full Scale Aerial Target (FSAT) on May 4 at Cecil Field in Jacksonville. The QF-16 took off at 3:05 p.m. Eastern time and climbed to an altitude of 41,000 feet during its 66-minute flight. 

The USAF will convert older jet aircraft, the F-16s into full-scale target drones under the QF-16 Air Superiority Target (AST) program.

These AST drones are used in Weapon System Evaluation Programs (WSEP) for assessing upgrades or replacements for air-to-air missiles (AAM), and they are also useful for giving pilots the experience of a live AAM shot and kill prior to entering combat.

QF-16s would replace the current QF-4 drones, the last of which are expected to be expended around 2015. The Air Force?s Air Armament Center hosted its first ?Industry Day? for interested vendors at Eglin AFB, Florida on 16?19 July 2007. The DoD awarded the nearly $70 million QF-16 Full Scale Aerial Target (FSAT) contract to Boeing on March 8, 2010, with the first delivery scheduled for 2014.

On 22 April 2010, the first F-16 to be converted to an aerial target arrived at Boeing's facility at Cecil Field, Jacksonville, Florida. Six F-16s will be modified during the development phase, as prototypes for engineering tests and evaluation. From 2014, up to 126 QF-16 drones will be created. The Air Force awarded a multi-year contract to Boeing in March 2010 that represented Phase I of the initial engineering, manufacturing and development of the QF-16, with options to buy up to 126 FSATs. 

"With this successful first flight of the QF-16, the Air Force, Boeing and our supplier-partners have laid the groundwork for the program to enter low-rate production in 2013 and make its first production delivery in 2014," said Torbjorn Sjogren, Boeing vice president, Global Maintenance and Upgrades. 

The functional check flight of the F-16, under control of a Boeing test pilot, validated the basic aircraft performance with the QF-16 drone modification package installed. The additional hardware Boeing installs allows the QF-16 to fly in an unmanned mode while under the control of a ground-based control system such as the Gulf Range Drone Control System (GRDCS) at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., or the Drone Formation Control System (DFCS) at White Sands Missile Range (WSMR), N.M.


During the current test phase in Jacksonville, a GRDCS mobile trailer with portable transmission towers provides communications between the flight controller and other personnel on the ground and the QF-16 pilot. "This was a tremendous milestone for the program and for Boeing because it signals our continued success as an off-Boeing platform support and sustainment provider," said Bob Insinna, Boeing QF-16 program manager. The QF-16s will be a higher-performing aircraft than the QF-4 they replace and representative of fourth-generation targets. They will be flown manned or unmanned within a controlled range and equipped to evaluate how U.S. fighters and weapons will operate against potential adversaries. 


Boeing will deliver six QF-16 test aircraft to Tyndall in October for additional testing over the Gulf Range. Following the successful conclusion of these tests, Boeing will support government flight testing from Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., over the WSMR complex.

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