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Air Force achieves drone fighter jet first with F-16 Fighting Falcon

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Turning fighter jets into dronesTo create the next generation of aerial combat training targets, Boeing took retired fighter jets and retrofitted them with drone tech, also know as unmanned aircraft control tech.

Boeing retrieved them from Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona where they’d be in storage for more than a decade, restored them for flight and turned them into full-scale, remote-controlled manned and unmanned aerial targets.

U.S. pilots can now use the sooped up jets to train against as realistic enemy aircraft. Without a human in the cockpit, pilots can practice firing on and neutralizing enemy aircraft. 

Boeing says the QF-16s can easily shift between unmanned and manned mode. This sort of technology paves the way for fighters than can fly themselves autonomously – and for a sort of robot fighter jet squadron.

Thus far Boeing has adapted six F-16 to become QF-16s and the U.S. military will use some of them in live fire tests. The current plan is to deliver these into military service in 2015.

The QF-16 will replace the Vietnam fighter F-4 Phantom. The U.S. Air Force similarly adapted this aircraft to fly without a pilot into the QF-4 aircraft for target practice.