EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla.: An F-16 Fighting Falcon was intentionally blown apart on the range here as part of a test on an aerial-target flight termination system Aug. 19.
The purpose of the test conducted by the 780th Test Squadron, and overseen by the QF-16 special programs office, was to demonstrate that the FTS design will be sufficient to immediately terminate the flight of a QF-16, a supersonic reusable full-scale aerial target drone modified from an F-16. Each drone contains an FTS, which is needed to satisfy range safety requirements for use in unmanned missions.
The QF-16 will provide a fourth generation full-scale aerial target for air-to-air and surface-to-air weapons systems evaluation, which will be conducted by the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.
“We’re taking these non-operational aircraft and reusing them, recycling if you will,” said Kevin Diggs, the QF-16 test and evaluation lead. “We find a better purpose for them in making them flight worthy, which gives our weapons designers the opportunity to test our advanced weapons against a modern aircraft. Additionally, our warfighters get an opportunity to train against a quality fourth generation fighter.”
Another purpose of the test was to determine a range safety debris footprint, Mr. Diggs said.
“This test was one step toward satisfying range safety requirements,” he said.
The non-operational F-16 from the 40th Flight Test Squadron, tail-numbered 78-0097, was destroyed for the test.
At approximately 11:15 a.m., with an audience looking on, the range officials exploded the aircraft. A small ball of flames burst from the middle of the aircraft, followed by thick black smoke, but no sound. The sound followed soon after with a deep reverberating boom.
The extent of the damage went undetected at first, due to the amount of smoke billowing from the wreck. Once it cleared, it revealed the F-16 had been split in half between the cockpit and the wings.
“It’s sad to see an F-16 destroyed like this,” said Maj. Wayne Chitmon, of the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron, the squadron that will eventually own and operate the QF-16s. “At the same time, however, it’s exciting to know the fourth generation ability of the F-16 will enhance the warfighters’ capabilities.”
After the range was cleared, the test team began inspecting the wreckage and collecting data. In the coming weeks, test reports will explain the outcome of the test.
The next step for the program office is to evaluate those reports from the 780th TS and Boeing, the QF-16’s prime contractor. The project will then move forward to certifying the QF-16 with Air Armament Center range safety for unmanned flights in the future.
The first QF-16 is scheduled to be delivered in 2014. The QF-16 will replace the QF-4, the third generation full-scale aerial target drone.