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QF-16 takes flight

Boeing test pilot, Steve Rainey and the QF-4 chase pilot, shake hands after a successful first flight of the QF-16


Boeing test pilot, Steve Rainey and the QF-4 chase pilot, shake hands after a successful first flight of the QF-16 on May 4, 2012 at Cecil Field in Jacksonville, Fla. The QF-16 is replacing the QF-4 which acted as a chase plane for safety during first flight.

Don’t look now, but Boeing is flying F-16s; the QF-16 to be exact. As part of a U.S. Air Force contract, Boeing is modifying Lockheed Martin F-16s with specialized hardware and software packages that turn a F-16 Falcon into a QF-16 aerial target which, eventually, the Air Force will fly manned or unmanned within a controlled range. While the QF-16 still looks like a F-16, the performance and features are not the same. The modified F-16s will be higher-performing aircraft, representative of fourth-generation targets. The QF-16s are replacing the QF-4s that have been in use since 1997 by the U.S. Air Force’s 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City, Fla.

In May, a Boeing test pilot flew the first QF-16 at Cecil Field alongside a QF-4 chase plane. The 66-minute test flight validated basic aircraft performance and the QF-16 drone modification package..

Boeing won the $72 million contract in March 2010. In this initial phase of the contract, Boeing is performing pre-engineering, manufacturing and development to convert six F-16s into QF-16 aerial targets for the Air Force.

The Air Force will begin the next level of testing in Phase II of the contract at Tyndall Air Force Base in 2013. Boeing will support the initial flight testing at Tyndall then later at Holloman Air Force Base and at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. .

Follow this link for a photo gallery from a ceremony Aug. 31 at Cecil Field celebrating the QF-16’s accomplishments.