Unmanned QF-16 Takes to the Air

Update: Now covered at AF.mil and the Air Force Times.

Forget Google’s driverless car.  Boeing made a pilotless fighter.

In what is at times both amazing and creepy, an F-16 modified into a drone configuration — now designated QF-16 — took to the air last week for the first time with no human inside it:

Photos courtesy Boeing.

In the military tradition of making up complex acronyms for simple things, the sortie was known as “NULLO,” or “Not Under Live Local Operator.”  From Boeing, the takeoff and landing were “automatic,” but other maneuvers were flown by pilots on the ground:

Two U.S. Air Force test pilots in a ground control station remotely flew the QF-16, which is a retired F-16 jet modified to be an aerial target. The QF-16 mission profile included auto takeoff, a series of simulated maneuvers, supersonic flight, and an auto land, all without a pilot in the cockpit.

You can see the Boeing video here.

Manned aircraft have been made pilotless before; indeed, the QF-16 is intended to replace the QF-4.  The QF-16 is significant largely because it is truly still a modern aircraft; it is the first time the US Air Force has had a target drone of the same type as a fielded aircraft.

The QF-16 modification was reportedly purely for the creation of target drones, though in this era of unmanned aircraft, armed Predators, and the like, it does kind of make you wonder how else the technology might be used.

Quote of the day: “Sweet, when do you start work on the QF-22?”