As no Phantoms are left to be converted after the last one left the 309th AMARG (Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group) based in Tuscon, Arizona to join the 82nd Aerial Target Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, the role of aerial target (i.e. manned or unmanned aircraft flown as target and decoy within a controlled range for testing against potential adversaries, radars, surface-air missiles etc) is to be undertaken by the QF-16.
Although the F-16 is a famous Lockheed plane, the contract to develop the “Viper Drone” aerial target was awarded to Boeing.
The conversion of F-16 into a QF-16 takes about 6 months; 220 airframes are to undergo this treatment.
The first QF-16 Full Scale Aerial Target took off from Boeing facility at Cecil Field in Jacksonville, Florida, and climbed to an altitude of 41,000 feet during its 66-minute first flight that marked its first manned flight.
The first F-16C destined to be shot down is an F-16C, 85-1570, serving in the Air National Guard of the New York state; by the way, the Air National Guard has been the largest “Viper” operator of the world.
Written with David Cenciotti
Image credit: Boeing
Ten years ago I was at our remote microwave radio site in the Owens Valley near Lone Pine, CA. when I heard the approach of jet flying really low. I ran out of the building just in time to see an orange Navy QF-4 phantom jet flying really low and when it banked I could see right into the empty cockpit. It turned due east and climbed steeply to clear the 13,000 ft. Inyo Mts. It was most likely out of the China Lake Naval Air Station just 100 miles to the south.