TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group marked an important milestone in continuing to prepare the warfighter for tomorrow's threats as the first QF-16 drone arrived for developmental testing at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., Nov. 19.
"The work done prior to today and the test work that is forthcoming will enable the Air Force to transition from a 3rd generation, Vietnam-era aerial target performance to 4th generation threat replication and beyond," said Lt. Col. Lance Wilkins, 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron commander.
The QF-16 is a supersonic reusable full-scale aerial target drone modified from an F-16 Fighting Falcon. At this time, the 53rd WEG uses QF-4s, made from 1960s F-4 Phantoms, to conduct their full-scale aerial target missions. The targets allow the Air Force and allied nations to have a realistic understanding of what they could face on the battlefield.
"In the imminent future, the QF-16 will take air-to-air testing and evaluation to the next level," Wilkins said. "It will make our American and Allied aircrew, aircraft and weapons more reliable and more lethal. It will serve a new generation of warriors."
Boeing Global Services and Support will conduct testing on the QF-16, according to a Boeing press release.
The QF-16s will undergo approximately six months of testing to validate their capabilities and ensure compatibility with the Gulf Range Drone Control System, explained group officials.
Next, the aircraft will deploy to Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., for approximately four more months of integrated testing. When all test milestones are complete, the aircraft will return permanently to the 53rd WEG to complete a transition period in order to achieve initial operational capability at Tyndall AFB.
The first production QF-16 is scheduled to be delivered in 2014.
As the Air Force prepares 5th generation fighters such as the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for the next battlespace, the group acts as a safety net to ensure our weapons capability is fully evaluated and understood prior to use in combat, said Col. James Vogel, 53rd WEG commander.
"It is a big day," Vogel said. "We are 100 percent behind the road to IOC for the QF-16."
The colonel added that the day was only possible with the work of many organizations, all involved Airmen at Tyndall AFB and all contractors.
The 53rd WEG, which falls under the 53rd Wing at Eglin AFB, Fla., provides the personnel and infrastructure to test and evaluate weapons utilized by the combat air forces of the United States and its allies. The group operates the only full-scale aerial drones in the Defense Department.