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First unmanned QF-16 flight takes place

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFNS) -- The QF-16 full scale aerial target's inaugural unmanned flight occurred Sept. 19.

The 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron and Boeing Co. conducted the flight, which is the first step in a two year process to phase out the QF-4 full scale aerial target.

"The QF-4 did a good job for many years, but it's time to turn the page in the aerial target program. This program will bring us into the 4th generation aircraft," said Lt. Col. Ryan Inman, the 82nd ATRS commander. "And will provide us with a mission capable, very sustainable aerial target to take us into the next 10 to 20 years."

A pilot performed all normal preflight checks before climbing out of the cockpit and locking the canopy from the outside. Control was then turned over to Thomas Mudge, a 82nd ATRS pilot controller, sitting in a control room on the opposite side of base. The QF-16 took off at 3 p.m. for an hour long mission profile including take off, conducting a series of simulated maneuvers and reaching supersonic speeds before returning to base and landing.

"The flight itself went very well," Mudge said. "Its performance and abilities are great and we're looking forward to this airplane."

The first QF-16 was delivered to Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., in November 2012 for operational and developmental testing to ensure their viability for aerial targets. The QF-16 is a supersonic reusable full-scale aerial target modified from an F16 Fighting Falcon. The emergence of U.S. 5th generation fighters such as the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning means American forces need an advanced target, similar to what they would actually find on the battle field.

"It takes it to the next generation, which now provides the shooters an aircraft that is completely a replication of current real world situations," Inman said. "The new targets will allow the Air Force and allied nations to have a realistic understanding of what they could face."

With successful testing at Tyndall AFB complete, the targets will be now move to Holloman AFB, N.M., to begin testing on an air-to-ground system. They will be part of live-fire testing before being sent back to Tyndall AFB for operation.

The 82nd ATRS is part of the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group, which falls under the 53rd Wing at Eglin AFB, Fla. The unit operates the Department of Defense's only full-scale aerial target program, which provides Air Force, Navy, Marine and Army customers targets for developmental and operational tests.