DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz.: Maintainers are towing F-16 Fighting Falcons out of retirement from the “boneyard” here July 29 and preparing them to become the Air Force’s newest platform for target training.

Specialists with the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group are regenerating F-16s so they can be flown to a Boeing facility in Florida where they will be converted to QF-16 full-scale aerial targets.

Boeing officials received a $69.7 million contract from Air Force officials in March to convert up to 126 retired F-16s into QF-16 drones that can fly either manned or unmanned, according to a Boeing press release.

As part of the QF-16 program developmental phase, Boeing officials tasked 309th AMARG maintainers to regenerate six F-16s. The maintainers spent more than a year and a half, an average of about 80 days per aircraft, preparing the first six aircraft to fly to the Boeing facility. The first F-16 arrived in at the Boeing facility in April. The fourth is scheduled to fly out next week, while two are still in the maintenance phase.

“Once we pull the aircraft from storage, we remove all the panels to conduct our preliminary inspections,” said Rob McNichol, an F-16 aircraft supervisor with the 309th AMARG. “We remove components so that we can get specialists such as nondestructive inspection members to find out if the aircraft is going to be airworthy. If it isn’t, then there’s no sense doing anything else to it, and we’ll take it back to the desert.”

Once an aircraft passes the initial inspections, it is further disassembled to refurbish, upgrade or replace components. A number operational checks and test flights are performed to ensure the aircraft is safe and ready for flight.

“We are regenerating these aircraft from purely storage to a fully-flyable, mission-capable aircraft,” Mr. McNichol said.

Maintainers are converting F-16C models as well as older F-16A aircraft. Once converted, the QF-16s will replace the few QF-4s left in the inventory.

“We’re running out of airworthy airframes, there’s not that many more left,” Mr. McNichol said. “The F-16 is a much lower radar picture which is much needed in modern warfare. Everyone is getting into smaller profiles, a smaller radar footprint, which is what the F-16 can give you; plus, it’s a lot faster.”

After modification to the QF-16 configuration, the six aircraft will serve as prototypes for engineering tests and evaluation prior to production, according to a Boeing press release. Deliveries of QF-16 drones are scheduled to begin in 2014.

“With the advent of the QF-16 program, we’re giving the warfare a better active weapon system,” Mr. McNichols said. “Even though these will be flyable by a pilot, once they go to the drone packaging they can do everything unmanned that they can do manned. They’ll be used to test new weapons coming on board, looking at a very small radar signature. It’s just the modernization of it, which we need to keep building and to become more technically advanced.”