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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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This is old news
By inperfectdarkness on 9/25/2013 12:49:09 PM , Rating: 3
The USAF has been using QF-16's since the supply of QF-4's was depleted. They've been flying drones out of Tyndall AFB for as long as I can remember. This really isn't news.

For those who question using F-16's in this manner, be advised that these are probably either ADF variants or A/B models--which have been retired from service for years. They're a far, far cry from the Block 50's that are currently in service. It's actually a GOOD thing to have 4th generation fighters as drones for target practice; it gives a more realistic threat to design our own weapons systems around.




RE: This is old news
By ClownPuncher on 9/25/2013 1:16:38 PM , Rating: 2
I think the real news is the level of fine control has advanced enough that they could possibly be used in combat.


RE: This is old news
By inperfectdarkness on 9/25/2013 1:38:05 PM , Rating: 2
Negative. The controls are designed for flying targets, not actual combat. Remote control is still a ways off from being able to offer full air-air combat functionality. For air-ground, supersonic jets are hardly the ticket. Close air support is much better with a subsonic jet like the A-10. I would suspect that the next logical evolution for remotely piloted aircraft is a successor to the A-10...i.e. something with 5x the payload capacity of a MQ-9.


RE: This is old news
By ClownPuncher on 9/25/2013 1:43:26 PM , Rating: 3
Well, RC enthusiasts will at least be able to scare their neighbors by breaking the sound barrier over their homes.


RE: This is old news
By BZDTemp on 9/25/2013 2:09:53 PM , Rating: 2
Exactly. I so want one - and a way to pay for fuel :-)


RE: This is old news
By drewsup on 9/26/2013 7:42:24 AM , Rating: 2
omg, an A10 drone.. i think i just creamed my jeans...
such a complete bad-ass aircraft now without that heavy titanium tub to protect the meat sack that previously sat there, also minus all the enviro systems.
Close air support would be revolutionized by this.. i admit, i cried a bit when the airforce stopped supporting this frame cuz it wasn't sexy enough,though as a former ugly jet technician, (F111), i may have taken it a little too personally... :D


"Doing Nothing?"
By DougF on 9/25/2013 1:18:40 PM , Rating: 5
Ummm....you've just proven you have absolutely no idea and did no research on the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMARC) located at Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ. The fleet of aircraft there prove to be invaluable resources in keeping the modern fleet flying. Aircraft there are used for spare parts and are sometimes regenerated for the active fleet. The "retired" fleet's parts have saved the US billions of dollars over the years through cannibalizing various bits/pieces/structures instead of buying more.
This particular aircraft could have donated any number of parts, save the basic structure, to the active fleet. If DT had bothered to ask AMARC, they could've pulled up the records and told you exactly what this tail number has done since it "retired".
...and yes, I'm touchy about this subject....




RE: "Doing Nothing?"
By 91TTZ on 9/25/2013 1:52:03 PM , Rating: 3
What are you getting worked up about? I've been to the boneyard before and he's right- the aircraft sit out in the desert doing nothing. Occasionally being scavenged for parts doesn't mean that the aircraft are actively doing something in the meantime.


Nothing New Here
By Hammer1024 on 9/25/2013 1:47:47 PM , Rating: 2
This is just the latest aircraft in a long line to be converted to target drones.

Prior to the F-16, the F-4's were used... they are running out, time for somthing new.

Nothing to see here.




RE: Nothing New Here
By Jeffk464 on 9/25/2013 2:36:44 PM , Rating: 1
I hope they are smart enough to keep some flyable F4's for historic reasons, to often we haven't done this.


RE: Nothing New Here
By sorry dog on 9/30/2013 7:41:35 PM , Rating: 2
Doubtful.

I really wish they would have kept a couple f-106's in good shape before they blew them all up.... but nope. On the contrary, the Air Force has actually worked against the private warbird community from restorations like a flying F105.

Also, it was mentioned that it is just A/B models, but some block 30 C model tails were some of the first conversions.

I do wish the Air Force would sell some older frames to individuals like other countries do... I think it is wildly cool that there is a demonstration team still flying F104's around.


Drone or Ultimate UCAV
By Destroyer on 9/25/2013 6:52:39 PM , Rating: 2
The F-16 has been modified to be a drone for the next generation of US pilots to practice live fire with; but these F-16 fighter jets can be the ultimate unmanned combat aerial vehicle as a human pilot on the ground would control them and attack hostile targets without worry about losing a pilot. Further, with additional modifications like a thrust vectoring engine from Lockheed Martin's F-22 Raptor, a F-16 could be even be more agile than a manned F-16.




No wonder we're broke...
By Movieman420 on 9/27/2013 9:14:02 AM , Rating: 2
Now we're using $20 million F-16 as drones?!?! Have they lost their fkn minds? Stupid question I guess. Sure it's impressive as hell what an F16 can do when there's no pilot to worry about but it's still insane overkill.




irobot is comming
By KOOLTIME on 9/25/13, Rating: -1
RE: irobot is comming
By Flunk on 9/25/2013 12:53:39 PM , Rating: 2
Is this a joke?


RE: irobot is comming
By Reclaimer77 on 9/25/2013 1:00:22 PM , Rating: 2
He's off the bloody deep end...


RE: irobot is comming
By flyingpants1 on 9/25/2013 2:08:19 PM , Rating: 2
Despite being poorly written, there is nothing controversial about this statement. He's 100% correct, humans simply never evolved (and can't evolve) for the last 100,000 years or so.


RE: irobot is comming
By Jeffk464 on 9/25/2013 2:30:44 PM , Rating: 2
Basically, we have the same brains we had 2000 years ago.


RE: irobot is comming
By cmart on 9/25/2013 3:56:24 PM , Rating: 2
So we've gotten about a foot taller because...?


RE: irobot is comming
By SAN-Man on 9/25/13, Rating: 0
RE: irobot is comming
By futrtrubl on 9/25/2013 6:11:25 PM , Rating: 2
That IS evolution.


RE: irobot is comming
By SAN-Man on 9/26/2013 2:57:45 PM , Rating: 1
No, it's not. There is no change to the species on the genome level which causes the increase in height.


RE: irobot is comming
By Jeffk464 on 9/26/2013 7:08:37 PM , Rating: 2
Basically evolution is selective breading. Instead of humans picking traits to bread nature is picking traits.


RE: irobot is comming
By M'n'M on 9/25/2013 10:15:15 PM , Rating: 2
Actually it's better nutrition.


RE: irobot is comming
By StormyKnight on 9/25/2013 11:25:18 PM , Rating: 2
Readily available food. Sure genetics have something to do with it, but it is food.


RE: irobot is comming
By palmira_friend on 9/25/13, Rating: 0
RE: irobot is comming
By xaders on 9/25/2013 5:19:36 PM , Rating: 2
it is Skynet or Cylons 1st.


RE: irobot is comming
By ClownPuncher on 9/25/2013 1:14:50 PM , Rating: 2
It's like you've studied absolutely no philosophy whatsoever.


RE: irobot is comming
By Breakfast Susej on 9/25/2013 1:17:22 PM , Rating: 2
Obviously we've evolved considerably over time. It simply hasn't all been positive. The biggest hindrance I see to humanity is the sense of self, or more accurately self importance.

We have an innate desire to feel special or better than others. Is this just learned behaviour or is it something more instinctual, like a cat having an instinct to chase small moving things.

Makes me think of a social experiment I saw once where they took an audience and separated them based on eye color and told them with absolute sincerity that there was scientific proof that people with blue eyes were genetically prone to be of lesser intelligence. Of course the other group became smug and superior very quickly, bickering and arguing ensued, and adults started acting like grade school bullies with attention on them.

We still feel it necessary to fight over which religion is right or wrong, color of skin, social status. We're all just elaborate walking sacks of matter that consume food energy to sustain ourselves. We all eat sleep crap live and die the same. But for some reason unlike any other life form on the planet, we have that one special additive. The need to feel greater than every other life form around us.

Well, of course not all of us do to the same degree. Nevertheless there it is, driving us to kill eachother and find ways to feel better than one and other even as far as we've advanced technologically. Maybe one day we'll live in an idyllic star trek like future where we strive to better ourselves rather than acquire resources. But that future sure isn't here yet.


RE: irobot is comming
By Jeffk464 on 9/25/2013 2:33:13 PM , Rating: 2
Its called tribalism, my country vs your country, my company vs your company, my team vs your team, my religion vs your religion, etc.


RE: irobot is comming
By lifewatcher on 9/26/2013 11:39:18 AM , Rating: 2
Nature made sure we are wired to perform in accordance with its requirements. "Life is the universe trying to understand itself." Every being should be useful in an everlasting struggle, in order to drive evolution. Top predators can afford not to evolve for millions of years (crocs, sharks, etc.) as they push other creatures to evolve. Humans have no such function anymore, as we now simply harvest whichever life form we choose - their evolution is irrelevant (it'll never put them on survival path). We seem to have two options to evolve - split into sub-species and war to no end; or take control of our evolution via science and philosophy. If we don't chose the latter, our instincts are very much needed, so that we evolve the old-school way (or die trying).

That being said, I salute automation (and ultimately AI), as the wildcard in our history. It'll make many jobs obsolete. Outsourcing to cheaper places will not be needed. First there will be insane unemployment. Then greed will give in to chaos - maybe our work days will drop down to 3-4 hours? Maybe humans will perform only creative jobs and maintenance will be left to the machines?


"I f***ing cannot play Halo 2 multiplayer. I cannot do it." -- Bungie Technical Lead Chris Butcher

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