One of the ways that pilots train in fighter jets is by engaging and shooting down aerial drone aircraft. The USAF has traditionally chosen to use Vietnam-era F-4 Phantom II jets as the flying targets for pilots to engage. The problem with using those F-4s is that they can no longer keep up with the modern fighter aircraft that the USAF flies.
To keep the pilots of the USAF ready to deal with any potential threat in the skies, the USAF went looking for a remote controlled drone aircraft with more performance to pose a challenge to pilots in modern fighter aircraft. The USAF has taken the first delivery of a new type of autonomous target that is based on the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
Boeing has now delivered the first of an expected 126 QF-16 target drones to the Florida Tyndall Air Force Base. Boeing is currently outfitting five more QF-16 aircraft as part of the initial pre-production run and those aircraft are expected to enter service by early October.
Once in service the QF-16 aircraft will be used to simulate modern foes such as the MiG-29 Fulcrum and the Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker. It’s unclear if these new QF-16 will be live fire target drones or flown in simulated fire missions. My money is on the latter, the QF-16 sounds like an expensive aircraft to shoot down on purpose.