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The  QF-16 drone for testing and evaluation missions took its first flight at Holloman Air Force Base, USA recently. The manned mission was the first for the device since the retirement of the QF-4 Phantom last year. The QF-16 can fly manned or unmanned, depending on the mission and customer’s needs. The QF-16 is an F-16 combat aircraft that was converted to an unmanned target for weapons systems testing.

Lt. Col. Ronald King, the commander of Detachment 1, 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron told af.mil: “The first flight is significant because it is the first step for us in standing up the QF-16 program. Manned flying is critical in our development of the remote control and unmanned mission capabilities necessary for us to provide QF-16 full-scale aerial targets to our Defense Department and foreign military sales customers.”

The upgrade to the QF-16 will allow operators to test weapons systems in real-world scenarios before reaching the battlefield.  “Our mission stays the same,” King said. “However, the QF-16 increases the capabilities we can offer our customers. The QF-16 is a fourth-generation fighter, while the QF-4 was a third-generation fighter. The QF-16 offers more realistic threat replication in performance, maneuverability and capabilities.”

“Our flying missions at Holloman are driven by our customer’s requirements,” King said. “Sometimes, when a system is brand new, we may just be flying straight and level with no maneuvers. As a system matures, the complexity of the missions will increase to test and validate the new system.”

The 82nd ATRS is part of the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group. The group provides the personnel and infrastructure to test and evaluate weapons utilized by the combat air forces of the U.S. and its allies. It operates the only full-scale aerial targets in the DOD.