During the last flight, the unmanned Phantom served as an aerial target and was shot at by an F-35 with two AIM-120s. Nevertheless, the aircraft landed safely back home.
The U.S. Air Force has just released some information about the QF-4 drone‘s last flight along with a video and some photographs. Interestingly, the aircraft that have flown as unmanned aerial targets for several DoD and foreign military sales customers testing next generation weapons, flew its last sortie supporting an F-35 mission on Aug. 17.
According to Lt. Col. Ronald King, the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron, Detachment 1 commander, the aircraft was shot at by the F-35 Lightning II with two AIM-120 AMRAAMs (advanced medium range air-to-air missiles). We don’t know the exact scope of the weapon test, the RoE (Rules Of Enagement), the scenario and whether the QF-4 was expected to escape the downing. Maybe something went wrong, the missile launch failed or was cancelled, or just missed (because no missile has a probability of kill of 100 percent). However, it’s at least worth of note that the unmanned Phantom landed back at Holloman Air Force Base completely unharmed in spite of being targeted by the (controversial) 5th generation fighter and shot at with 2 radar-guided air-to-air missiles.
The reason for the QF-4 not being shot down is probably that the test was not a test of the AIM-120 missile’s ability to hit a target (something that has been proved in the past) but on the F-35’s ability to track the target and guide the AMRAAM until this reached the kill envelope. Once the missile starts self-guiding to the drone the test is accomplished and there is no need to waste a costy unmanned aircraft: the AIM-120 is directed to self-destruct before impact.
However some readers point out that previous tests saw some controversial “misses” (“the drone was beyond visual range and the AIM-120C was directed as planned to self-destruct before impact”) whereas other tests (for instance those with the AIM-9X) involving QF-4s or even more expensive QF-16s eventually led to knocking down the drone with direct hits (“After launch, the missile successfully acquired the target and followed an intercept flight profile before destroying the drone, achieving the first F-35 Air-to-Air kill or “Boola Boola,” which is the traditional radio call made when a pilot shoots down a drone.”)
Will keep you updated if more details emerge and the expected outcome of the mission is clarified.
Anyway, the unmanned mission on Aug. 17 served as the final unmanned flight before the QF-4 program ends in December year, and the 82nd ATRS, Det. 1 transitions to flying QF-16s. Until then, the unit will fly the Vietnam era F-4 as a manned aircraft.
Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. is the only base with a QF-4 mission. However, the 82nd ATRS, based out of Tyndall AFB, Florida, has been flying QF-16s since September 2014.
“It’s certainly bittersweet,” said King in a USAF release. “The F-4 served faithfully in Vietnam and as late as the Gulf War. So, for it to be pulled out of the boneyard to continue serving its country is a testament to this airplane — to the designers, the test pilots who first flew it, to the maintainers who’ve worked on it all these years — what a testament to what they’ve been able to do, and what a great airplane it was. Forty-five years later, we are still flying these airplanes to test the latest and greatest equipment we have.”
Image credit: U.S Air Force
Surprised they are not flying QA-10s.
The F4 could easily be serving in Syria today…
It already is. The Iranian air force uses them to escort Russian strategic bombers.
Not into Syria. That footage of the F-14s and F-4s escorting Russian strategic bombers was over Iranian airspace when the Russians were launching cruise missiles from Iranian airspace.
Yes, but the US does not want to spend extra money on keeping a fleet of F-4’s ready.
Private companies keep them flying at 12k/hr while making a profit. An F35 helmet could keep an F4 flying for 40 hours.
It’s because private companies don’t deploy to warzones. Deployment costs are huge. In fact, the same companies demand danger pay [DSSR 651c], imminent danger pay [DSSR 651g], and Post Differential (PD), among an endless list of expenses to transport and house those employees.
As you can see, supporting another type of aircraft requires a separate group of people. Because the F-35 has advanced avionics and sensors, it is capable of identifying and attacking its target: an all-in-one airframe. Other aircraft such as the F-4 would have trouble delivering precise attacks and will most likely risk civilian deaths (a problem Russia is having in Syria but doesn’t care too much about). The media likes to focus on the cost to fly per hour, but they completely fail the take into account the logistics.
Furthermore, the US has flown OV-10’s in Syria to show that it is possible ot use legacy aircraft. However, most of that effort has been shelved because of high logistical cost, especially when such an aircraft must be flown in conjunction with more capable fighters in light of Syrian and Russian provacations. The F-22 has become the choice interceptor in Syria.
Maybe if the just parked the F-4 in the desert they could hit it with 20 million dollars worth of hardware. My money is on the F-4.
My money is on the ground squirrel that chews through the wires and fuel lines while the pilots are off drinking. Fear the rodent. Fear the fuzzy. Fear the cute.
Generally telemetry will tell you if the weapon passed within lethal distance and this is scored as a kill (impacts obviously so – but you save the drone if you can). For instance the AIM-54 six missile shot involved three direct hits but was registered as four kills because a 4th missile passed within what was deemed lethal range. A fifth missed, a sixth was scored a no test because the drone’s blip enhancer failed to function. There’s no way to know the actual intent or success of the test.
As F-4s are still in service with a couple allies I assume this a/c will go to Tucson for parts.
QF-16s must be so much easier to automate with the fly by wire system.
A few years ago, my firstborn AFROTC cadet was going through field training at Tyndall and called me on his cell. “Hey day, I’m looking at a Phantom with your name on the canopy rail, and it’s #2 in line to be shot down.” Many mixed emotions there.