Boeing turns aging planes into drones for Air Force target practice

What should the U.S. Air Force do with its aging fleet of aircraft? After all, the aircraft boneyard is already pretty crowded.

How about using them for target practice?

Boeing has been turning outdated planes into unmanned drones that the Air Force can use in targeting drills.

The Daily Mail reports that Boeing has successfully converted six F-16 fighter jets into drones, allowing the aircraft to take off and fly without a pilot. Boeing says it’s the first time a F-16 has flown unmanned.

“It’s a replication of current, real world situations and aircraft platforms they can shoot as a target,” U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Ryan Inman, Commander of the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron said in a release. “Now we have a 9G capable, highly sustainable aerial target.”

The jets had all previously been retired and were residing at Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. Boeing restored the jets and added the necessary equipment to allow them to fly as drones.

The renamed “QF-16 Full Scale Aerial Target” are now set to be used in combat drills at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, with two Air Force test pilots controlling the target craft from the ground. In the future, the unmanned planes will also be used for weapons testing.

“I love the F-16 and brag about it a lot — and now to get something ready to take off on its own, so somebody else can shoot it down, makes it a little bittersweet in my eyes,” U.S. Air Force test pilot Jason Clements said in a video released by Boeing.

Air Force officials say they will now be used in fire drills at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico.

And to get a sense of just how sophisticated the drone controls are, considering that the planes not only took off and landed without a pilot, they actually reached supersonic speeds and simulated combat maneuvers during the test drills.

Stars and Stripes adds that during the first drone test flights, the modified F-16’s reached heights of 40,000 feet and completed several barrel rolls at 7G before returning to the ground.