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Empty F-16  (Source: Boeing)
Boeing and the U.S. Air Force used it for firing purposes

Boeing and the U.S. Air Force recently tested an empty Lockheed Martin F-16 for the first time.

The F-16, which sat in Arizona for 15 years doing nothing prior to this flight, was used as an unmanned practice target for firing. It was the first time one of these jets had flown without a pilot onboard. 

The jet -- controlled by two U.S. Air Force pilots from the ground -- flew at 40,000 feet and at a speed of Mach 1.47. The test flight achieved 7Gs of acceleration, but was capable of performing maneuvers at 9Gs.

In addition, the F-16 had a few tricks up its sleeve, like a barrel roll and a "split S," which is where the aircraft turns upside down right before making a half loop and flies the right-way-up in the opposite direction.

The F-16 flew from a Florida base to the Gulf of Mexico during the test flight, and according to those working on the test run, it did a great job. 

"It flew great, everything worked great, [it] made a beautiful landing - probably one of the best landings I've ever seen," said Paul Cejas, the project's chief engineer.

Boeing now has six modified F-16s, which have been renamed QF-16s. The U.S. military plans to use some of them in live fire tests, which can help train pilots. 

Boeing said low-rate initial production is scheduled to begin in the fourth quarter, with first production deliveries coming in 2015.

However, some worry that this sort of testing will lead to "drone warfare," where jets like the unmanned F-16s will be used for automated killing and strike people on the ground. 

Just last month, the U.S. Navy announced that it awarded four development contracts to develop designs for the Unmanned Carrier Launch Airborne Surveillance and Strike Air Vehicle (UCLASS). 

Source: Boeing





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